Monthly Archives: September 2009

Picture This – Annie Leibovitz “buys back” her Copyright

Recent media stories on the importance of copyright to the creative community have largely centred around the Music Industry, with much of the recent hysteria revolving around Peter Mandelson’s plans to disconnect internet users who download illegally from the internet if they become persistent enough offenders.

However, one industry which got to grips with the problem some time ago is that of Professional Photography, with the usual rule that whoever takes a photograph is normally the owner of any copyright which it contains being used by the trade for some time as a way of leveraging their IP into profits by either offering to sell their full copyright to the subjects of their images for a larger fee, by licensing or selling their work to “image houses” such as Getty or Corbis or by clamping down on unauthorised use of their work.

This is made even more important for celebrity photographers such as Robert Knight, Lynn Goldsmith, Gered Mankovitz and Pattie Boyd, who have become almost as famous as the stars (and sometimes world leaders) that they shoot and command millions for their creativity in capturing the right shot. The most famous name, however, in the celebrity photographer clique is probably Annie Leibovitz, who shot to fame in the 1970s and ‘80s whilst working for (and defining the “look”) of magazines such as Rolling Stone and capturing iconic images such as the last public photograph of John Lennon before his assassination and a heavily-pregnant Demi Moore for the cover of Vanity Fair.

However, Leibovitz’ fame doesn’t apparently make her less vulnerable to the current financial landscape. She has seen her fair share of financial woe recently, and was forced to approach Art Capital Group, a lender specialising in “creating liquidity from art assets” to secure a loan for £14 million. The amount itself was newsworthy enough, but what’s more interesting is what she out up as collateral: three Manhattan Townhouses, a property in upstate New York and the copyright to every picture she has ever taken or will ever take.

Art Capital had been forced to get tough with Leibovitz when she failed to meet repayment terms on the loan and issued proceedings in New York, which would have seen her lose everything. However, an extension to the payment deadline has now apparently been agreed and most crucially, she will be able to “buy back” the copyright to her life’s work for an “undisclosed” sum.

If Annie Leibovitz had been unable to get an extension on the deadline to repay her loan from Art Capital, then she really would have lost everything. Losing her properties would be bed enough, but if she had lost the copyright in her portfolio, then she’d lose the right to make any income from the huge amount of images she’s taken over the years.

Copyright in most photographs under US and UK Law is owned by the Photographer and will usually last for the life of the Photographer plus 70 years. The length of Given that Annie only really came to prominence in the 1970s, she will have plenty of time to leverage the value of her copyright in her catalogue of images into royalty payments for their use. Very few other photographers have had so many if their images become as iconic as Leibovitz and as such very few will be able to make as much from licensing them out to third parties.

The Credit Crunch has seen an awful lot of Artists use their work as collateral to raise funds as many become more and more aware of exactly how valuable an asset copyright can be. It allows the creator of a photograph (and in fact any literary, artistic, dramatic or musical work) to control how the image is used, reproduced and sold. Art Capital obviously sees the value in this and has built its business from making money for its clients and itself by taking copyright as a form of security in the same way as you would expect to see your house in a mortgage.

However, the loan into which Leibovitz entered was on the basis that not only did she mortgage her existing work, she also put up all of the photographs she would take in the future. This was an extremely good deal for Art Capital and would see her giving up her only real source of continuing revenue in exchange for a loan, albeit a massive one. Granted, she is now “buying back” her copyright, but at what cost? Art Capital could conceivably charge her a premium for doing so in exchange for altering the terms of her loan. If she gets in trouble again, could we see the situation repeat itself?

What this goes to show is the value of copyright, not just to photographers, but to everyone in the creative industry. UK law, and most other legal systems, states that whoever comes up with a copyright work – be it a photograph, a piece of text, a database or a musical work, belongs to the person who created it, even if they created it on a commission for a client or other third party.

Copyright is every bit as valuable as your premises, machinery, and on some occasions even your staff and you shouldn’t make the mistake of thinking that ownership automatically transfers to your client. This may be a term in your contract, but if it isn’t then make sure it doesn’t become one. Once you give away your copyright in a piece of work, whoever eventually becomes the owner can exploit it however they see fit (subject to assertion of moral rights).

By the same token, if you are going to use your IP as security for a loan, think about the terms very carefully. If you default, a lender could end up literally owning your creativity, as Annie Leibovitz so nearly found out. Seeing her iconic images licensed out for use on T-Shirts or on other merchandise would not have been a pretty picture.

Will the Beatles finally join the Digital Revolution?

After years of bitter litigation, it now looks as if both apples are now ready to be sold from the same cart. Rumours suggest that the Beatles are finally coming to iTunes, with an announcement widely expected to take place later today.

The Band has long been one of the last major artists to hold out from making their music available through iTunes, and many pro-downloading campaigners have argued that this approach has led to widespread filesharing of the Fab Four’s songs. However, with today’s worldwide re-release of the digitally-remastered versions of the Beatles’ back catalogue coinciding with what a press conference for what Apple have described as a “music-focused media event” and the release of the new “Beatles Rock Band” game, many are speculating that some of the most iconic music of the 20th century may now finally find its way online. 

Many music fans and media lawyers thought, and some still do think, that the Beatles’ songs will never end up being sold through iTunes, and with a very good reason.

Apple Inc. and Apple Corps., the Beatles’ Record Label, have had a fraught relationship over the years which led to a very long-running court case over Apple Inc.’s use of the “Apple” Branding. Legend has it that George Harrison came across an advertisement for Apple Computers and asked who was using their logo, which led to Apple Corps. suing for Trade Mark Infringement in 1978, with the case eventually settling in 1981 after the two sides reached an agreement whereby Apple Inc. would not enter the music business and Apple Corps would not enter the computer business.

This lasted until Apple Inc. added rudimentary music software to their computers in the early 90s, which led Apple Corps. to sue again and a refinement of the deal between them giving Apple Corps the right to use “Apple” on “creative works whose principal content is music” and Apple Inc. the right to use “Apple” on “goods or services used to deliver such content”, but not for any physical musical materials.

Enter iTunes and the iPod, which reignited tensions between the two via a claim for breach of contract. Apple Corps lost this case on the basis that iTunes merely distributed music rather than created it. Apple Corps were then set to appeal the judgment before the ongoing trade mark claim was settled in 2007, with Apple Computers now owning the “Apple” trade marks and licensing them back to Apple Corps. This fuelled speculation in 2008 that Sir Paul McCartney had brokered a deal which would see the Beatles’ catalogue sold via iTunes to the tune of a rumoured $400 Million, although Apple Computers denied it, with discussions apparently reaching an impasse late last year.

Both sides clearly recognise that there is a vast amount of money to be made through selling the music of arguably the most popular and influential band of all time via iTunes, and after Led Zeppelin and Metallica (some of the other major hold-outs) finally reached agreements to make their back catalogues available, surely it’s now only a matter of time before the Beatles do the same. No-one could have foreseen iTunes’ popularity when it launched and selling the Beatles’ music through the platform will allow them to reach a whole new audience and for them to make royalties through licensing the copyright in them for years to come. As far as the trade mark case was concerned, it could have gone either way, but as a deal has now been reached, both sides stand to make a serious amount of money.

In any event, a deal would allow the surviving Beatles to severely curtail the need for their fans to download their music illegally. That may be the next dispute that the Beatles find themselves involved in; if their songs now become available for legal download through Apple, then we may see their Lawyers clamping down on illegal sites which host their music to ensure that the value in the Back Catalogue is protected.  It’s no coincidence that the rumoured digital release is coming as the Band’s early releases are nearing the end of their protection by copyright, which expires 50 years after the recording of the original song. Following this timeline, the Copyright in 1962’s “Love Me Do” will expire in 2012. Moves are being made to extend this period, mainly after calls from Musicians who made their name in the late ‘50s and early ‘60s that they should be able to make an income from their music via the huge number of new methods which have become available over the last 20 or so years.

What this goes to show is exactly how valuable the Beatles are as a Brand, even 45 years after they first came to prominence. The deal to use their songs in the new “Beatles Rock Band” Game shows that not only is this the case, but that older artists could well see their music now finding a similar new lease of life as new technologies and methods of exploiting the copyright and related rights in their music and image become available. AC/DC and Metallica have already lent their music to the “Rock Band” and “Guitar Hero” Franchises, and despite comments from Pink Floyd’s Nick Mason and former Rolling Stone Bill Wyman that the phenomenally popular Video Game franchises may deter the stars of the future from picking up real instruments, they probably won’t be the last to do so. The makers of Guitar Hero have already come out against these suggestions, claiming that the game actually inspires their audience to learn to play after seeing how rewarding it can be.

It will certainly be rewarding for the Fab Four.  A whole new generation could now discover their music, and it’s unlikely that the surviving Beatles will be singing “Don’t Bring Me Download” or “Can’t Buy Me Copyright” any time soon.

Music Videos back on YouTube after Copyright Dispute

Music videos from major artists have now finally been made available on YouTube in the UK, signalling the end of a 6-month dispute between the video sharing site and PRS for Music, the organisation responsible for collecting royalties for songwriters when their music is played in public, recorded, broadcast or made available to the public online.

In March, YouTube blocked UK access to premium music clips posted by major record companies after failing to reach a new deal with the PRS on how much songwriters and artists should be paid each time their videos are viewed. YouTube, owned by internet giant Google, claimed that the PRS wanted a much higher sum than had been in place under the previous arrangement and removed the videos in a move which UK music called “blatant, cynical and manipulative”, claiming that Google intended to “bully around a little society that represents 60,000 songwriters” and wanted to agree a sum that was “significantly less than at present”.

Under the new deal, YouTube will pay an undisclosed lump sum to PRS which will cover the period from January this year until 2012. 

This is a great result for all concerned. YouTube depends upon content to make its money, and the PRS depends upon the broadcast of content to pay royalties to its members. This just goes to show how the music industry has changed over the past 15 or so years and emphasises the importance of online outlets to develop new and enhance the profile of existing artists.

YouTube started out in 2005 as a website based primarily on user-generated content or “UGC”, inviting users to post up footage of pretty much anything, subject to certain guidelines. It became phenomenally popular over a very short period of time (according to some statistics, in the top 5 most-visited sites on the web) and quickly saw its users posting all kinds of video and audio material, as video sharing became a hugely important part of video culture. Google purchased the site in 2006. Posting a video of yourself is one thing, but YouTube ran into trouble when users began to post content which belonged to Movie and TV Studios and record companies.

The Entertainment Industry has been fighting a long-running battle with YouTube since its launch to ensure that videos and audio which belongs to them isn’t posted without their permission and without receiving a royalty. Users have taken to posting entire movies, every episode of TV series and whole albums by a wide range of major label artists to share with their friends and/or comment on what they post. Doing so without consent from the record company, TV or movie studio is an infringement of copyright by copying the original material. YouTube then becomes part of that problem by copying the material onto its server and making it available to the public. The damages which a Court will normally award for this kind of infringement would be the royalty which you’d normally charge for licensing the content in question or an account of the profits generated via the infringement. In YouTube’s case, such a figure could be very significant.

The issue led to the Entertainment Industry lining up to take on YouTube, with Paramount at the front of the queue. The US TV and Movie studio sued Google for $1 Billion after entire series of their most popular TV shows showed up on the site and 150,000 unauthorised clips were allegedly downloaded over 1.5 billion times. A claim from the FA Premier League followed soon after. YouTube does carry a disclaimer advising not to post TV shows, music videos, concert footage or commercials unless they were created entirely by the user. Despite this, however, a huge amount of unathorised video still remains on the site and this has led to agreements being put in place with many record companies, movie and TV studios which will see their content being posted on the site along with advertisements.

This is what led to many of the major record companies embracing the website to allow the public to view videos of their artists and hopefully boost sales in a major downturn for the music industry. However, permission to do so comes with a price, which is where the PRS comes in. The PRS collects royalties for music publishers and ultimately their songwriters to collect royalties when their material is used. Music contains two different kinds of copyright – in the sound recording and in the actual music and lyrics. Record companies can make whatever deal they want to with Google over the video and/or song as they are usually the owners of the copyright in sound recording, but the copyright in the actual composition and lyrics of the song is often separate, and it’s these royalties that the PRS collect for songwriters. The idea is that a songwriter or composer still gets something for their work even if the actual recording of their song is owned by the record label, with royalties paid by the PRS via licences for any music which is played in public over a sound system, via radio, TV or online.

The big issue here is that more and more people are getting their music over the web, which will become a huge source of income for Songwriters over the next few years as it allows their work to reach a much wider audience than via CD sales or legal downloads alone. If a user downloads a song, they pay for it once but if they watch a video or listen to a track on YouTube, it can’t be saved to a PC and needs to be viewed over and over again, with a small royalty being due via the PRS each time. It’s in their interest to do some kind of deal with YouTube and earn royalties now rather than get into a long-running dispute and end up losing out on a massive amount of potential income.

YouTube, however, also need the Songwriters to play ball. The site has come under increasing pressure from Google to generate more profits since its purchase, and given that it’s free for the public to post videos on the site, the natural way of increasing revenue will be to cut deals with the Entertainment Industry to licence their material so that they can reach their goal of becoming the Internet’s premier site for video and audio content. Not only that, but entering into deals will mean that YouTube will face fewer disputes with rights owners as it continues to grow and more third party material finds its way onto the site. The only other way of dealing with the problem would be to vet users accounts for any unauthorised material, which would add in huge expense to their operating costs. Not only that, but record companies and TV studios would have to approach YouTube and demand that the content be taken down on the grounds that it infringes copyright. This again costs money, mainly for the rights owner, but if the case does end up in Court after YouTube refused to comply, the site could end up liable for their and the rights owner’s legal costs.

This is a sign that the Entertainment Industry is starting to move with the times and embrace the cultural shift that YouTube represents, and also that YouTube realise that they can’t get away with Copyright Infringement forever. It is, perhaps, Entertainment Industry’s the most important asset. If you are a rights owner and have spotted your content on YouTube, either approach them to cut a deal to licence it or demand that it is taken down. If YouTube don’t comply, then you can sue them just as much as the person who copied your content. The chances are that YouTube will be the Defendant who can afford to pay your costs and damages.

Patently wrong?: Trevor Baylis looks to criminalise Patent Infringement

One of the country’s best-known inventors is lobbying the Government for a fundamental and sweeping change to UK Patent Law which would make copying an existing invention a criminal offence.

Dr. Trevor Baylis OBE first shot to fame as the inventor of the “wind-up radio” in the early ‘90s and has become a leading advocate for Inventors’ rights, winning numerous awards and becoming a media personality in his own right, going on to found Trevor Baylis Brands PLC in 2003 as a means to help inventors protect their investment, exploit their intellectual property and find routes to market for the next generation of innovators.

Along with James Dyson, Dr. Baylis is one of the highest-profile inventors in the UK. This morning, the BBC reported that Dr. Baylis has written to Lord Mandelson, the Business Secretary, to urge him to “criminalise the theft of intellectual property”, going on to note that:”if I was to nick your car….I could go to jail; but if I were to nick your patent, which is worth a million pounds, you’d have to sue me.”

Currently, there is no criminal penalty for Patent Infringement, although there are already such measures in place for the infringement of copyright and trade marks. Dr. Baylis’ comments have already led to a fierce debate over the issue, with much of the negative commentary coming from Lawyers.

Dr. Baylis is one of the few inventors who have actually been able to make a living and, in the case of James Dyson, a fortune out of an invention. Getting an idea to market is becoming increasingly expensive and obtaining a Patent is in itself a time-consuming and very expensive process, so it’s easy to fall on the Inventors’ side of the fence and to argue that criminal sanctions should be put in place to protect their ideas and the “knowledge economy” which the Government has made a central part of its financial plans for the foreseeable future.

However, like many of these issues, it’s just not that straightforward.

A Patent is only granted for “methods and processes” which make innovations work. To obtain one, the Patent Act provides that an invention must be new (in that it’s not already in the public domain), have an “inventive step” which means that it isn’t obvious to a third party who is knowledgeable in the field in question, be capable of use in industry and not fall within one of the “excluded categories”, which include scientific discoveries, methods of medical treatment and any other invention which is “against public policy or morality”.

Dr. Baylis’ argument would probably be that it’s also against public policy and morality to allow infringers to get away with ripping off existing inventions. He’s right, and the law agrees with him. A Patent, once granted, allows its inventor to sell an invention or licence it out to third parties in the UK without fear of it being reverse-engineered, and creates a monopoly for a Patent Owner to exploit the Invention however they see fit for 20 years, provided that annual renewal fees are paid.

Although the filing fee for a UK Patent is only around £200, there’s no guarantee that the application will eventually be granted as it will be rigorously examined by the Patents Office and the chances are that a lot of work will have to be done by professional advisers to get the application through. This, the issue of whether or not the process or product will actually be commercially-successful and the fact that a UK patent only covers the UK with separate Patents will be needed for other countries (many of which will have different legal systems) is where costs start to seriously mount up and many inventions fall by the wayside, hence many inventors walking into “Dragon’s Den” having spent huge sums of money on patent costs or pitching for a substantial amount of investment to get the Patent granted.

It’s easy to think that the Government makes it difficult to obtain a Patent and that the whole system is just too costly. Sometimes, this may be true, but this should be balanced against what you actually obtain upon the grant of a Patent – a registered monopoly to make money out of your invention for 20 years. This will have the effect of stopping products which are too similar coming to market and therefore stopping third parties from competing with you. The Government takes granting this kind of right very seriously and is keen not to hand out protection to products or processes that are too similar to what’s on the market already, hence the examination system.

Patents are usually the most secure and straightforward way of protecting your investment in an invention. However, the price of freedom to make profits from a Patent is eternal vigilance. Patents are infringed when third parties manufacture, use, sell or import a patented product or process without the owner’s permission. We don’t have a criminal offence like Dr. Baylis has requested in English Law, but we do have a tried and tested civil system which allows Patent Owners to sue for infringement and to be able to recover their costs in doing so, damages or an account of profits made by the infringing product and an injunction to stop further infringement. This is balanced out again by the “threats” provisions, which ensures that Patent owners who threaten an action against a third party without cause to do so can in fact be sued by anyone who incurs damages as a result.

The system is complicated and it is very expensive to launch and/or defend a Patent Infringement Claim, mainly due to the fact that you’ll need expert technical advice from the word go and that IP cases are amongst the most expensive actions in UK civil law, especially if you’re looking for an injunction to restrain infringement. Not only that, but a common defence to a Patent Infringement claim is that the Patent should not have been granted, meaning that if you lose the case, you may well lose your monopoly and all the investment which you’ve made to protect your innovation.

To put a criminal system in place may seem like a straightforward way of cracking down on IP crime, but the fact is that, although criminal copyright infringement cases are all over the headlines at the moment, the criminal system isn’t designed to deal with Patents.

The question of whether the Patent is actually infringed is a very complex process, and unless Patent Agents start moving in droves to the Crown Prosecution Service, then the expertise simply isn’t there to decide if, beyond a reasonable doubt, there is a criminal case against an infringer.

The other major argument against the criminal alternative is the issue of the monopoly which Patents grant. Theoretically, a Patent Owner can (although most often doesn’t) make a huge amount of money from their innovation, and this being the case, the Government expects them to crack down on infringers themselves, rather than expecting it to be done for them. Civil cases are very costly, and the entire civil court system is now being reviewed to see if litigation costs can be justified at current levels, but there are a number of checks and balances available to Patent Owners, which include an opinion from the Patent Office on whether or not your Patent has been infringed. Whilst this isn’t binding in the same way that a Court Order would be, it is comparatively cheap to obtain and can be used as a powerful commercial lever to force a settlement with an infringer.

The old chestnut that “if it’s worth copying, it’s worth protecting” is more true here than perhaps any other area of IP law. Patent Agents are already arguing that the threat of a criminal prosecution may deter further innovation and they have a point. Many new products may never reach the market for fear of coming too near to an existing Patent, which could seriously inhibit innovation and run completely against the whole point of the system.

The real challenge is looking at how to make Patent Infringement claims cheaper. A number of insurers now provide policies to protect Intellectual Property rights and the costs of any action to enforce them, and the best way to deal with a future problem is to plan for how you’re going to deal with it when you first look seriously at making any kind of money or getting any kind of protection for your invention. The sad fact is, though, that may inventors simply can’t afford to use the Courts to help them and this will have to change at some point, whether it’s via IP Lawyers entering into “no win, no fee” agreements (which is unlikely, as it’s notoriously difficult to predict the chances of success in a patent claim) or more action from the Government through the Intellectual Property Office to try and deal with potential disputes proactively.

In short, there’s no easy answer. Musicians can take quicker action than Patent owners as there’s no registration system for Copyright and they normally have to work harder to prove that their IP rights actually do belong to them. Many businesses could be infringing upon a Patent with no idea that they are doing so, which is not the case for the CD or DVD copiers in the parallel drawn by. Dr. Baylis. Patents, like many areas of Intellectual Property law, involve a series of trade-offs in exchange for a higher level of protection. For now, that will also unfortunately involve higher legal fees.

The Hulk vs. Hannah Montana? – Disney buys Marvel for $4 Billion

In a move that has shocked the Entertainment Industry around the world, news emerged on Monday that the Walt Disney has made a $4.2 Billion (£2.4 Billion) bid to purchase Marvel Entertainment which will see iconic worldwide brands such as Spider-Man, the Hulk and Iron Man under the same corporate roof as Mickey Mouse, High School Musical and Hannah Montana.

The Walt Disney Company needs little introduction as the world’s biggest Media and Entertainment business. Marvel, on the other hand, has been referred to by the Financial Times as “one of Hollywood’s last remaining Intellectual Property powerhouses”. In 1989, its previous chairman referred to it as a “mini-Disney in terms of Intellectual Property – Disney’s got much more highly recognised characters whereas our characters are themed action heroes. But at Marvel we are now in the business of the creation and marketing of characters.” Marvel is America’s biggest comic book publisher and has seen many of its characters become cultural icons through multimedia properties such as the “Spider-Man”, “X-Men” and “Iron Man” film franchises, hugely successful video games such as “Ultimate Alliance” and toy lines.

The deal has been approved by both companies’ Boards of Directors and is expected to be finalised shortly. The reason for the deal in a time where comparatively few are being struck in the world of Entertainment is fairly straightforward – Disney will add Marvel’s huge portfolio of Intellectual Property and brands to its business and take advantage of Disney’s proven business model to develop characters such as Spider-Man, Captain America, Thor, Iron Man and the X-Men with an even bigger audience.

The price paid for Marvel was more than Disney paid for Pixar Animation, the makers of Toy Story, Finding Nemo, Cars and The Incredibles only a few years ago and the feeling is that although the price is high, Disney’s strong relationships with retailers will only help to further build the Marvel brand; in fact Marvel’s share price has already shot up.

It would be very easy to see this as one of the first “green shoots” in the Entertainment Economy, which like the rest of the business world has seen fewer and fewer corporate deals done since the advent of the credit crunch. However, it’s not that straightforward.

This is a huge sum of money for Disney to pay, but Marvel are in an enviable position right now, being the biggest comic publisher in the United States with an enviable portfolio of multimedia properties including Video Games, Cartoon Series and most notably a number of movie franchises, including the hugely successful “Spider-Man” and “X-Men” movies as well as newer releases such as “Hulk” and “Iron Man”, to be joined over the course of the next couple of years by high-profile summer blockbusters “Captain America – The First Avenger”, “Thor” and “The Avengers”.

What makes the latter so interesting is that, although the rights to make “Spider-Man” and “X-Men” movies are currently owned by Sony and 20th Century Fox respectively, “Hulk”, “Iron Man” and ”Captain America” are being made independently by Marvel Studios after a huge refinancing deal with Merrill Lynch which allowed the company to make their Movies without help from Hollywood and only involve studios such as Paramount and Universal to distribute the final product.

“The Avengers” in particular has a huge amount of potential, being a team-up story involving the latter characters and will have an extremely impressive cast who have been locked in for a number of sequels including Robert Downey Jr., Edward Norton, Scarlett Johansson and Samuel L. Jackson. Making “the Avengers” was only possible once the movie rights to the individual characters all came under the same roof.

Marvel was actually insolvent around 10 years ago when the Comics Industry entered its last major slump and has seen its fair share of financial crises; their lack of funds was what led to the movie rights to their various characters being sold to different studios in the 80s and 90s after their sale to New World Entertainment in 1986 failed to launch their most popular titles as film franchises. Their biggest rival, DC Comics, has never really had this problem given that they were purchased by Warner Bros. in 1969 and always had a studio that was willing to make movies for them. The success of “Batman Begins”, “Superman Returns”, “Watchmen” and “The Dark Knight” has led to a number of other DC characters now being actively developed into movie series over the course of the next 5 years or so, starting with “Green Lantern” in Christmas 2010.

One of the key issues coming out of the announcement of the Disney-Marvel deal is that their existing distribution arrangements with Sony, Fox and Paramount will remain unaffected until the related contracts expire. This will mean that some of the more promising and high-profile releases such as next year’s “Iron Man 2” will not be produced and distributed by Disney and that the more well-known franchises will not be Disney movies for some time yet.

However, Disney will now have access to Marvel’s library of over 5000 comic characters, and can begin work any projects which aren’t already under development at other studios. They could look to draw on Pixar’s expertise to launch lesser-known properties; after all, Pixar’s “Incredibles” was loosely based on Marvel’s “Fantastic Four” and there’s no reason why other titles wouldn’t benefit from their particular sense of humour and attention to detail. The question is, however, whether or not the bubble will have burst on Superhero movies by that point. For every “Dark Knight”, we’ve seen a “Punisher”.

The point to take out of this from a legal perspective is that the deal was done almost entirely on the basis of Marvel’s Intellectual Property. Marvel has a huge number of characters and brands and is no stranger to leveraging their IP into merchandising, but even they are put to shame by Disney. It’s worth noting that, although Marvel’s sales figure was something around $700 million last year, Disney’s was $37.8 billion. Disney can turn Marvel’s characters into movies, theme park rides with built-in audiences at the various Disney World resorts around the world, video games, toys and a thousand other products which could flood the marketplace in a similar way to phenomenally popular Disney brands such as High School Musical and Hannah Montana.

Although Disney won’t be able to use the biggest toys in the box just yet, they’ll be working with a company that uses a very similar business model (which saw Marvel buy out an animation studio in the early ‘80s to launch their characters on the small screen and led to the launch of the “Transformers” cartoon in the 1980s as essentially an advertisement for the toy line) with a huge library of characters which are recognised the world over. Provided that Disney can get past the initial view of Marvel’s core audience; that the deal will lead to the repositioning of some of its more edgy characters to suit a family audience, then this could secure Marvel’s future for many years to come. The naysayers should bear in mind, however, that Disney was the company that launched Quentin Tarantino’s career and that the current management team will stay in place.

The Entertainment industry has suffered over the past few years due to the credit crunch; the impact of illegal downloading and the growth of counterfeit merchandising. This could be a sign that other media businesses will look to team up in a similar way over the next few years. It’ll be a few years before we can really tell whether or not this was a wise move for either company but in the short term, it’s hard to see how this can be seen as anything but a win/win situation. In any event, it’s a “whole new world” for Marvel.