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Rejected by Disney

Disney Trip by veritasnoctis

My friend Stephanie Green is very creative. During law school, she re-wrote the words to several Disney songs to be about law and law school. She wrote a song about being a 1L that is set to the music of Part of Your World from The Little Mermaid. Her lyrics are fun and the music is beautiful. We talked about using her lyrics and my voice to record the song.

We knew the first thing we needed was a license from Disney to use its music. Disney is known for monitoring its copyrights and the general rule is “Disney never loses.” (I actually know of one person who fought Disney and won, but that’s an anomaly.) Given that we’re both legal eagles, we have no excuse for not jumping through the proper hoops to secure the rights to the music. If we recorded without their permission and tried to release it, I’m sure Disney would have laid the smack down on us.

I didn’t find Disney on American Society of Composers, Authors and Publishers (ASCAP), which is an organization that licenses music and collects royalties for over 435,000 artists. I searched Disney’s corporate website and sent them a message requesting to purchase a license for the song.

A few weeks later I received a response from Disney. They denied our request for a license. They said their policy is to not allow people to create substitute lyrics for their songs, particularly for people who are not affiliated with Disney.  They said they didn’t want to give us a license because it would lead to others making similar requests. I can understand that they don’t want to set themselves up to get a flood of requests and have to evaluate each request to determine when they’ll grant a license and monitor the licensees to ensure they’re not violating their license.

My favorite part of the letter was when Disney described our request as “wholesome.” I’m not used to seeing that descriptor used with one of my ideas.

I’m bummed that we were rejected by Disney, but I understand where they’re coming from. Hopefully we’ll find a way to make it work in the future.

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  1. Ben says:

    If you made it a parody, then it would be non-infringing. Suntrust v. Houghton Mifflin (11th Cir) upheld substantially retelling “Gone with the Wind” from the perspective of Ohara’s slaves, who were glad to be rid of her.

    Making a work non-commercial sadly does not appear to get you out of derivative-work licensing requirements, but it may help bolster a colodable parody argument, which is a defense to infringement.

    1. Ruth Carter says:

      Thanks for your thoughts Ben. I wish our idea was a parody, but unfortunately it’s satire so we don’t qualify for a fair use defense. We could set Stephie’s lyrics to any melody and the impact would probably be the same. We don’t need the Disney song to make our point. And since Disney almost never loses, I’m not going to set myself up to do battle with them if I don’t have. If we fought Disney on this one, we’d lose big time.