Disney's Takedown Of Roger Ebert's Tribute To Gene Siskel

from the shameful dept

Esquire’s moving article about famed film critic Roger Ebert is worth reading for many reasons — detailing the unfortunate medical circumstances that have caused him to lose his voice, his jaw and his ability to eat, among other things, but not his ability to communicate or share his love of movies. Reading through the article, I had no intention of writing anything about it for Techdirt, but then I came to a story near the end, also noticed by Justin Levine, concerning how Disney apparently forced offline Ebert’s first show after longtime sparring partner Gene Siskel died:


Ebert keeps scrolling down [to his blog post commemorating Siskel, ten years after his death]. Below his journal he had embedded video of his first show alone, the balcony seat empty across the aisle. It was a tribute, in three parts. He wants to watch them now, because he wants to remember, but at the bottom of the page there are only three big black squares. In the middle of the squares, white type reads: “Content deleted. This video is no longer available because it has been deleted.” Ebert leans into the screen, trying to figure out what’s happened. He looks across at Chaz. The top half of his face turns red, and his eyes well up again, but this time, it’s not sadness surfacing. He’s shaking. It’s anger.

Chaz looks over his shoulder at the screen. “Those fu — ” she says, catching herself.

They think it’s Disney again — that they’ve taken down the videos. Terms-of-use violation.

This time, the anger lasts long enough for Ebert to write it down. He opens a new page in his text-to-speech program, a blank white sheet. He types in capital letters, stabbing at the keys with his delicate, trembling hands: MY TRIBUTE, appears behind the cursor in the top left corner. ON THE FIRST SHOW AFTER HIS DEATH. But Ebert doesn’t press the button that fires up the speakers. He presses a different button, a button that makes the words bigger. He presses the button again and again and again, the words growing bigger and bigger and bigger until they become too big to fit the screen, now they’re just letters, but he keeps hitting the button, bigger and bigger still, now just shapes and angles, just geometry filling the white screen with black like the three squares. Roger Ebert is shaking, his entire body is shaking, and he’s still hitting the button, bang, bang, bang, and he’s shouting now. He’s standing outside on the street corner and he’s arching his back and he’s shouting at the top of his lungs.

Notice that they think it’s Disney again. How nice of them to repeatedly take down the videos of Ebert’s tribute to his close friend. Just like copyright law intended.

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Comments on “Disney's Takedown Of Roger Ebert's Tribute To Gene Siskel”

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65 Comments
Derek Kertonsays:

Re: Re:

Do you have young kids?
A Disney-brand boycott is kinda toothless for anyone who doesn’t.

Do you include Miramax, ABC, ESPN? All the other Disney brands? The theme parks? Otherwise, it’s not really a boycott, but just your taste in content.

If so, “Solidarity Reg.” I can’t join the boycott, because I have a bad back.

Dark Helmetsays:

Sigh...

These two might have been respected and loved around the nation, but they were absolute LEGENDS here in Chicago.

But what’s really, REALLY strange about all this is that At The Movies (Siskel/Ebert’s show) was produced by WLS-TV Studios here in Chicago. I’ll give you 3 guesses as to who owns WLS-TV, but you’ll only need one.

That’s right, Disney produced the show. So why are they taking down their own content? That’s what I don’t get. It can’t be because disney copyrighted material is involved, since they own the rights. Did they just not want the video anymore and not bother to involve Ebert?

NAMELESS.ONEsays:

oh really

same people that in th emovie hackers 2 used my trademarked United hackers association ina movie without expressed written consent

wonder should i sue?
SHOULD i become a millionaire and stuff the cost to the end users as disney would just raise prices on stuff to cover a loss?

Do not kid your selves disney is in fact one of the worst distribution houses on earth. TO think they make kids movies makes me utterly ill.

Richsays:

sigh

These stories are making me more and more depressed. I always try to talk with friends, family, and coworkers about these issues. They just flatly don’t care, and that makes me more depressed. Almost the entire history of film is tied up in copyrights. You’d be hard pressed to write a few lines of code without tripping over someones patent on trivial and obvious software. You cannot enjoy the music you purchase unless you are in a locked, sound-proof room without running afoul of some collection agency. I still enjoy playing computer games I purchased in the ’80s. What do I do 20 yrs. from now when the games I recently purchased (I mean licensed) don’t work because the DRM doesn’t let me, or the media it’s on has deteriorated?

The lobbyist keep throwing money that the politicians, who in turn keep passing anti-consumer laws. Voting does no good because of the two-party system (USA), and the fact they say one thing to get elected and then do another.

We have a rich history of art and literature from all over the world, centuries old, that is available to all. I fear that will no longer be the case for succeeding generations. There will be this void from the 20th century on.

It all just makes me sad, and I feel there is nothing I can do about it.

Ima Fishsays:

Re: sigh

It all just makes me sad, and I feel there is nothing I can do about it.

Reading stories here can get pretty depressing at times. You’re absolutely right, the vast majority of people in this country do not give a frick about these very important issues and the copyright industry will get whatever it wants, just like it always has.

However, maybe you can find some solace in making fun of the Anti-Mike. That always cheers me up.

mkamsays:

Re: sigh

I find the same things as you Rich. I try to mention any of the issues that are talking about to friends and family don’t care. When I say I will never buy a blu-ray because of the problems with the devices having to verify you are legit and the annoying DRM no one cares. They say ‘but they look so nice’.

I write software and agree that it is impossible to ‘steal’ others patented ideas. The ‘theft’ is fairly complicated. I usually have a problem that needs to be solved, or a game that I want to write. I then write the code necessary to solve the problem. Perhaps this program will have to connect to the Internet for some data, or will interface with a GPS to find out where it is. Then I use this information to solve the problem. I probably ‘steal’ several ideas from patents along the way without knowing or caring. Of course if you don’t make money no one cares.

hegemon13says:

Re: Re: Re: Re: sigh

Actually, he said “convert to h.264/MKV.” h.264 is a codec, and thus you do convert the to h.264 (unless you are using no compression, since Blu-ray uses a very high bitrate of h.264). MKV is a container, but it is a different container than the original Blu-ray uses. So, in short, yes, it is a conversion of both video and container, which is exactly what Ima said.

Anonymoussays:

Re: sigh

“It all just makes me sad, and I feel there is nothing I can do about it.”

There are a few things you can do about it. You can vote with your wallet and not buy games, etc with DRM. You can use P2P to get DRM free games, etc, although it’s illegal. You can go outside and enjoy the world and forget about using anything created by the entertainment industry.

Disney has big corporationitis. The left cheek doesn’t know what the right cheek is up to.

Killer_Tofusays:

Re: sigh

The solution is to download all of the games you buy close to release, when they are readily shared in a DRM removed format. Then when you need to play it years from now, just bust out the pirated version and install it.
Don’t forget to get No-DVD cracks for them as well (only needed if the DRM removed version isn’t already cracked).

Naomi Woodssays:

Re: ha all artistists need to eat.

Well if they’re that hungry, have them stop by my place. I cook too much any way and waste way too much food. I’m not the only home cook in america who can’t figure out how to cook for 2 people (one a 4 year old) and not have any major leftovers. We can band together and form the “Left Over Home Cooked Meals for Starving Artists Food Pantry”. I’ll start the first one here in the Seattle Area. Common’ America. Let’s see how many starving artists we can feed!

Brian Dahillsays:

This is why I read TechDirt

I’m often ask why I bother reading this site. What value does it bring to me? However, when I read a story like this, it becomes clear how truly valuable this site is. How could such a thing happen? How could anyone offend Roger Ebert like this? His interviews and writings have taught me to appreciate the real art of film. His shows with Gene Siskel were both educational and entertaining. It’s ashamed to hear about how this was handled.

spencermatthewpsays:

Why Disney Did it

I’ve watched “At the movies” from time to time since I was a kid. I remember very well the “two thumbs up” ratings of Siskel and Ebert. Their insight into movies was great, and while I didn’t always agree with them, I found that they spoke with conviction and expertise.

Fast forward to 2009.

“At the movies” is still on the air. It is still reviewing movies. But now, it is with a couple know-nothing chuckle heads. They’ve changed the ratings system. Instead of thumbs up or thumbs down, it “See it”, “Rent it”, “Skip it”. “At the Movies” is a pale imitation of what it once was.

That’s why they blocked the content. Corporations do this all the time. When the make a change they want all memory of the old erased. Companies spend millions of dollars making sure their current logo is displayed, and that people want the new, not the old.

That’s what’s happened here. It’s Disney trying to hide the fact that once upon a time they created some great content. If all people know is the garbage they are currently producing, then that is all they will ever expect.

Angelicasays:

Re: Why Disney Did it

That’s what’s happened here. It’s Disney trying to hide the fact that once upon a time they created some great content. If all people know is the garbage they are currently producing, then that is all they will ever expect.

I concur. I feel more speechless than Roger Ebert after reading that article.

Disney=Evil Empire. I have lived in Florida for 8 years, moved here with two young children, and not once…NEVER have I set foot in Disneyland.

gmknoblsays:

Re: Re: Why Disney Did it

Check that. He allowed them to use it while they renegotiated his contract after Gene left. Disney chose not to, I assume on the advice of lawyer(s). After he left Ebert told them they could use the thumbs up / thumbs down but Disney said they had “moved on,” again turning him down.

So, it’s more complicated – and a case that Disney wanted to more clearly “own” the show – than just “Ebert has trademarked” it.

In short, any large corporation will do what it thinks will make them more money, mostly in the short term, and will not act appropriately because of that.

ACsays:

Re: Why Disney Did it

“That’s why they blocked the content. Corporations do this all the time. When the make a change they want all memory of the old erased. Companies spend millions of dollars making sure their current logo is displayed, and that people want the new, not the old.

That’s what’s happened here. It’s Disney trying to hide the fact that once upon a time they created some great content. If all people know is the garbage they are currently producing, then that is all they will ever expect.”

If you take a look at any Disney dvd of their older “classic” films (which I would NEVER BUY but have checked a few out from my local public library) you’ll notice that they always omit the original year of release, even on iconic status old films.

Disney = erasing history and treating consumers like morons

WhatIdiocysays:

Piracy vs Copyright law

Lovely… now we have people on here discussing the act of stealing and comparing it to simple copyright infringement.

All the pirates on here need to just get a life. Pirates are simply too stingy to actually buy programs/movies instead of purchasing them. Piracy has nothing to do with fighting DRM, and everything to do with stealing and there’s not a good way to spin piracy. Pirates drive up the cost for legitimate buyers and do more harm than good. I don’t know how many torrents exist on the web that are bad and loaded with viruses. It is because of irresponsible behavior like that, that malware continues to be a problem on the web.

Now onto the real issue of the original post. It kills me to see a company take such stringent measures to prevent Ebert from posting commemorative videos of his long time friend. That is really sad to see and really needs to be brought to the forefront.

Dark Helmetsays:

Re: Piracy vs Copyright law

“Lovely… now we have people on here discussing the act of stealing and comparing it to simple copyright infringement.”

And that has what to do with the article, exactly?

“All the pirates on here need to just get a life.”

Not everyone here is a pirate, sparky….

“Pirates are simply too stingy to actually buy programs/movies instead of purchasing them.”

President Bush called, he wants his idiotic oversimplification back….

“Piracy has nothing to do with fighting DRM”

Yes it does….

“and everything to do with stealing”

The Supreme Court says you don’t know how to use the English language….

“and there’s not a good way to spin piracy.”

Like, for example, some content companies have talked about how it is great market research? Obvious wrongness is obvious.

“Pirates drive up the cost for legitimate buyers”

Let’s make a deal. For every percentage point that amount of piracy is reduced, the content companies of the world will mirror that percentage in price reduction. What do you say? I didn’t think so….

“and do more harm than good”

Wait, wait, wait. You just said there was no good way to spin piracy, but now you’re telling me that they are doing at least SOME good? Why are you contridicting yourself?

“I don’t know how many torrents exist on the web that are bad and loaded with viruses.”

My antivirus software asked me to tell you not to worry, it’s not concerned….

“It is because of irresponsible behavior like that, that malware continues to be a problem on the web.”

My antivirus also asked me to let you and everyone else suffering from malware that he…you know…exists and shit….

“It kills me to see a company take such stringent measures to prevent Ebert from posting commemorative videos of his long time friend.”

Why? Ebert is a dirty smelly raporist pirate! All he had to do was license the video he made while working for Disney FROM Disney and it would’ve been all good. He just wanted to STEAL the content that HE helped make, driving up the cost for others that wanted to legitimately see the tribute. There’s no good way to spin Ebert’s piratey theft, and it’s super likely that any other version of that video is laden with a supervirus constructed by Osama Bin Laden himself which will melt the eyeballs of anyone that views it!

ScooterNZsays:

Re: Re: Piracy vs Copyright law

Why don’t people stop calling it something that it isn’t.
It is THEFT, plain and simple. There is not other way to spin it. All this blether about copyright, starving artists, studios making obscene profits or any other crap.
Call it THEFT and be honest about what you say.
If you take for yourself something that is someone elses intellectual property, something they though was worthy enough to protect, to get a return on and you take it without any recompense to them then it is a crime.

Dirk Belligerentsays:

Disney is the prime driver of copyright law overreach for one simple reason: If they didn’t keep buying extensions from their puppets in Congress, Mickey Mouse would’ve already become public domain; allowing anyone to do anything with him including making movies with him doing anything the makers wanted including having graphic sex while committing genocide.

Of course, the irony is that Walt Disney built his empire by making movies of public domain stories like Snow White, Pinocchio, Alice in Wonderland, etc.

LostSailorsays:

A Fine Example of Moral Outrage

An emotional tug at the heartstrings, Mike. And a fine example of moral outrage.

Except I thought the moral component of copyright issues were supposed to be beyond the pale, unworthy of being considered in what is consistently framed as an issue of economics. You chide any defenders of copyright who make a “moral” argument that they just have to get beyond the emotion and accept economic reality.

But yet, moral arguments seem to be okay from the other side?

I feel as badly as everyone else here that Ebert couldn’t watch the video of his friend one more time. Assuming he never had tapes or discs of the shows they did together.

Notice that they think it’s Disney again. How nice of them to repeatedly take down the videos of Ebert’s tribute to his close friend. Just like copyright law intended.

Well, yes. They took down videos of shows they produced and owned, for which Ebert and Roper were paid for their performances. Presumably this was all agreed to contractually, and Ebert knew what he was doing. Apparently Ebert’s relationship with Disney did not end well. But there is not indication in this piece whether Ebert ever even asked about posting this tribute to his dear friend.

Anonymoussays:

Re: A Fine Example of Moral Outrage

The point is that the purpose of copyright is supposed to be entirely economic. Copyright was not designed (or not supposed to be) to protect moral rights, or enforce morality, or ensure copyright holders can make a living, or any such nonsense.

But don’t let inability to comprehend a point get in the way of your whining.

LostSailorsays:

Re: Re: A Fine Example of Moral Outrage

Well, anonymous, that’s not quite true. As Mike often points out, the purpose of copyright is the promotion of progress in science and art. While the mechanism of that promotion is economic, indeed monetary, the economics is not the primary purpose.

But tell me where the economic issue is in this story? Indeed, where is the promotion of progress element in this story? This story is indeed a fine example of an emotional, morally outraged response to a copyright issue.

I’ll let you insults pass. I’ve come to expect them from people who can’t deal rationally with an issue.

Dark Helmetsays:

Re: Re: Re: A Fine Example of Moral Outrage

“But tell me where the economic issue is in this story? Indeed, where is the promotion of progress element in this story? This story is indeed a fine example of an emotional, morally outraged response to a copyright issue.”

But that’s the point. The complete lack of promoting the progress is why this is a story. There’s no obvious reason why Disney should remove the videos. Removing them doesn’t promote any progress, it just makes an old ailing movie legend extremely sad….

LostSailorsays:

Re: Re: Re: Re: A Fine Example of Moral Outrage

Actually, your point is not the point. How is having the video on his blog promoting progress? That there isn’t an obvious reason for Disney to remove the video doesn’t mean there isn’t one.

Promoting progress is a very generalized concept that is not suited to small, highly individualized events.

And while I certainly have no particular love for the Disney Corporation, I question whether they would have even known that the video was on the blog at all. I note that the quoted piece said that Ebert embedded the video there and the fact that he didn’t know it had been removed indicates that he embedded it from a third-party site. If Disney contested it on that third-party site, they would have no specific reason to know where it was embedded.

I also don’t necessarily have a problem with making a moral argument in favor of Ebert, but if such an argument is made, then you also have to consider the moral arguments in favor of copyright, something that Mike, at least, has been unwilling to do.

The Groove Tigersays:

Re: Re: Re: Re: Re: A Fine Example of Moral Outrage

The point of copyright law is to Promote Progress, not to block every single thing that doesn’t specifically Promote Progress.

Does that mean I can use copyright law to keep you from eating a lasagna? I mean, eating a lasagna doesn’t Promote Progress. According to your logic, I can somehow twist the law to deny you a lasagna. Prove to me that you’re Promoting Progress with your lasagna. DIRECTLY.

How about, are you going to take a bath? Well, that doesn’t Promote Progress. I can have 10 lawyers misinterpret copyright law so that you can never again take a bath. Unless it Promotes Progress, it can be denied by copyright law, right?

Derek Kertonsays:

Re: Re: Re: Re: Re: Re: Re: A Fine Example of Moral Outrage

“How is having the video on his blog promoting progress?”

This illustrates where you don’t get it. As a people, we believe strongly in freedom of speech and expression. Hidden among a mountain of expression is some content (or art) worth watching. Content like Ebert’s is notably worth watching by the simple measure that many people do spend their time watching it.

Ebert wanted to say something, to express something, and his ability to do so was blocked. Legally so, of course. But many of us think that this blockage, while legal, is wrong. It goes against the fair use rationale of a man trying to express himself.

And why did Ebert not have his own local copy of the content? I don’t know, but it was probably some other ‘ownership’ issue. He probably was limited to linking to some other embed code, which got pulled. Doesn’t much matter. What I see is a limitation in Ebert’s ability to expand the cannon of “useful arts”.

You’ll note that, above, I don’t give a rat’s ass about the emotional ties Ebert may have had to the content. I just lament the inability of a person to express themselves using their past works in a reasonable way. Emotion is just a sad complement to this story.

Now, let’s flip your question around. “How is removing the video from his blog promoting progress?” Does the use of copyright meet the objectives of copyright? We think not.

Christophersays:

Whose is the video?

In my humble opinion, the person who appears in a video should own the rights to the video… and the company that paid for it should have the right to show it where/when they choose, provided the person in the video says they do… and that should be how it works, purely and simply. Now wouldn’t that make life easier? But it isn’t that way, and so we have a system that doesn’t work… and until someone goes out and fixes the problem instead of just complaining about it, the problem won’t get fixed. Well?

Anonymoussays:

I’ve worked for Disney directly and have had them as a customer at another film industry job. They appear to have a huge number of attorneys sitting around all day trying to figure out something to do to justify their exorbitant salaries. They will contest ANYTHING you give them in writing and make miniscule changes to terms and conditions just for the sake of the change itself. There’s no doubt in my mind that this sort of thinking must have created the problem with Ebert’s vids.

I should also mention that now that Disney owns Marvel the production of Thor is going through many levels of Disney hell that Iron Man never had to endure simply because the Disney engine wasn’t attached to those shoots. If I were john Favreau I’d steer clear of doing another Iron Man as it’s clear that Disney will fuck with it as they have Thor.

bugmenotsays:

copyright wasn't to promote progress, or make money

They were invented so that there is no disincentive to create. This is usually accomplished by preventing people who did not create new products to benefit economically. This may sound the same as what copyright abusers try to argue, but it’s very different. So long as other people do not benefit economically, it should be considered “fair use”. That’s the whole point.

But no. Now it’s all about control. Money and control make for a bad, bad combination.

RadialSkidsays:

Scooter:

No, non-commercial copyright infringement is not a crime, it’s a civil infraction. Two different things.

In terms of REAL theft, the most ?wrong? thing about it is the intent to deprive permanently, otherwise ?stealing? falls under the same category as using or borrowing. When it comes to intellectual property, you can not deprive someone permanently of it.

When ?stealing? information you are not depriving anyone of that information, because they still have the same amount of information as before you ?stole? it. Regardless of how much it costs to create something, calling it theft simply to copy it is absurd.

Naomi Woodssays:

re: Disney's Takedown of Ebert's tribut to Siskel

I was planning to take my 4 year old daughter on a Disney cruise as soon as she was potty trained. I’m disabled and can’t get around very easily. So the cruise idea was the best option of a vacation where she can have fun and I won’t slow her down. I don’t mind big business making a profit. I fully support a capitalist society. I was against the bailouts as it negated the whole premise of capitalism, in that you sink or swim on your own merits. Companies will fail that are sick and ill run. That’s how it’s supposed to work. However, after reading about Disney’s apparent lack of class and pettiness with regard to Mr. Ebert’s on line tribut to Mr. Siskel, I’m canceling my plans for 1. Get the disney credit card to save money for vacations etc disney related for my daughter, 2. Book a Disney Cruise in 2011-2012, 3. Sending my daughter with neighbors who are planning to take their kids to Disney World in 2012 and lastly, I plan on talking to the neighbors about how petty and nasty Disney apparently is on a personal basis and not just concerned with business and making money. I hope I can convince my friends and family members who had plans or are making plans to go patronize anything Disney related that that would not be a good idea as they would be supporting a company who seems to take vendetta on a personal level and not just concentrate on good business practices. So basically in a nutshell, SCREW DISNEY.

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