Over the past couple of days, I’ve seen a lot of alarmism over Disney’s buyout of Lucasfilm. That’s to be expected, of course. As someone who hates large corporations, copyright, and copyright-enabled corporate control of information, I sympathize — believe me.
The fears of Star Wars fans — probably a majority — that Disney will kiddify Star Wars and turn Leia into Snow White are also predictable. What’s interesting, though — the dog-bites-man story — is the number of fans who are optimistic. Whatever corporate copyright lockdown Disney puts the franchise under couldn’t possibly be worse than what George Lucas has done. The Disney acquisition actually offers to breathe new life into the Star Wars universe. The fan community is awash with excited speculation about what might be in store for the third (Episodes VII-IX) trilogy, and whether the Grand Admiral Thrawn novels — an authorized part of the Lucas empire, but never yet authorized for film — might be translated into film. Heady stuff, if you’re a Star Wars fan.
The thing is, corporate mergers and acquisitions shouldn’t be necessary for this kind of stuff to happen. There’s already a huge fanfic community — operating on the barest edge of legality if at all — of Star Wars fans writing more creative stuff than Lucas ever dreamed of. In a free market, any big film company (or small indy film producer) that wanted to turn this stuff into a movie would be free to do so, without asking Lucas’s permission or paying him a single penny. If it weren’t for the dead hand of copyright wielded by George Lucas, there would probably already be Thrawn films in existence, along with every other permutation of the Star Wars fictional universe imaginable.
Historically, literature was governed by the same folk ethos as travelling blues singers playing juke joints and riffing off each other’s material. Can you imagine what the Shakespeare corpus would look like if he’d had to buy out the copyrights of Petrarch and all the other writers he mined for story ideas? Disney — a company which is now at the forefront of attempting to destroying the very idea of the public domain — was itself built on reworking (usually not for the better) public domain material originating with the Brothers Grimm, A. A. Milne, Rudyard Kipling and Hans Christian Andersen.
So the actual situation is that mergers between giant corporations, wielding totalitarian information control, are — unfortunately — necessary to artificially recreate the situation that would naturally exist without the state-enforced totalitarian “intellectual property” monopolies. Of course it would be far better to eliminate copyrights and patents altogether. But that’s going to happen with or without this particular corporate acquisition. As Cory Doctorow said, the desktop computer is a machine for copying bits instantaneously and at zero marginal cost. Any industry whose business model is based on preventing bits from being copied is too stupid to survive.
Frankly, I’m not that concerned about the merger. It’s only significant to the extent that it’s a cartel for pooling copyrights. And copyright is in the process of becoming completely and utterly unenforceable anyway — taking corporate dinosaurs like Lucasfilm and Disney into the ashheap of history along with it.
In the meantime, maybe we can expect some great films.