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To get to Lou Meisinger’s office, you head upMickey Avenue, past the sound stages at Pluto Corner, and make a left under theseven monumental dwarfs holding up the pillars of The Walt Disney Co.’sheadquarters building. This leafy campus in Burbank, Calif., iswhere Disney’s plucky cartoon characters spring to life. It’s also whereMeisinger, Disney’s executive vice president and general counsel, figures outhow to protect these creations — not a simple task in an era when movies canbe illegally copied off the Web in minutes. The 59-year-old Meisinger came to Disney in1998 from Los Angeles’ Troop Meisinger Steuber & Pasich. He was aco-founder of the firm in 1975, and Disney was a client for years. Meisinger nowsupervises a staff of 250 Disney lawyers worldwide. He seems to relish the”informal but persistent dialogue” on legal and strategic issues thathe says goes on daily with CEO Michael Eisner and COO Robert Iger. One thing they’re almost certainly discussingnow is Eldred v. Ashcroft, which the U.S. Supreme Court decided to hearas we went to press. The case, which was brought by Eric Eldred, proprietor ofa free, online library of public domain material, challenges theconstitutionality of the Copyright Term Extension Act of 1998. The legislationadded 20 years to existing corporate copyrights. Without it, early versions ofDisney’s Mickey Mouse would enter the common domain; a small loss in revenue,perhaps, but potentially huge in precedent. Corporate Counsel staff reporter Catherine Aman met withMeisinger in February to discuss Disney’s IP docket. Corporate Counsel:What are Disney’s most pressing IP issues? Louis Meisinger:Protection of our content in general is asbig an issue as the company has. It entails a number of initiatives. One was toconform the duration of copyright in the United States to what it wasinternationally so that U.S. companies weren’t disadvantaged compared tocountries where copyright term is longer [corporate copyrights last 95 years inmost European countries]. CC: You’re talking about the Copyright Term Extension Act, which has beenchallenged in Eldred v. Ashcroft. Isn’t there an argument to be made, asthis case does, that limiting copyright duration stimulates production of newcreative works? LM: That argument has been advanced and rejected by every court that’shad a chance to rule on it. We think that if you want to encourage people tocreate, you need to make sure they’re appropriately compensated. CC: Disney has benefited enormously from common domain material like”Grimm’s Fairy Tales.” Isn’t the company talking out of both sides ofits mouth? LM: No, I don’t think so at all. We’re not advocating a perpetualcopyright. At some point, I think, creative content needs to fall into thepublic domain. THE THREAT OF THE WEB CC: How big a problem is downloading content from the Web? LM: The numbers are astonishing. Something like 500,000 films a day arebeing downloaded on the Internet. A Motion Picture Association of Americatechnologist recently downloaded all of “Pearl Harbor” from theInternet in just 19 minutes. CC:There must be hundreds of fan sites for each of Disney’s characters.Do you police those? LM: We do monitor the Web. There are hundreds, perhaps even thousands, offan sites that we’re aware of, and we don’t take any action against them. CC: You don’t take any action? LM: We are, for the most part, flattered that people would choose to useour content in this fashion. Where we draw the line is when fan sites have amore commercial purpose. CC: What about cases of inappropriate or offensive use? LM: When we think we have a realistic chance of closing a site, we dopursue them. The problem is many of these entities are located offshore, whichmakes pursuing them very difficult. And we think pursuing them in a publicforum draws attention to them as much as anything else, and therefore it’srather counterproductive. CC: It just gives them publicity. ���������� LM: Exactly. You don’t want to become known as a company that tolerateswholesale infringement of your content. On the other hand, you have to approachthese things with a dose of pragmatism, too. If we spent all our days and allour resources hunting down and closing down sites inappropriately or illegallyusing our content, we would have to have a staff of hundreds. That’s both thegift and the potential danger of the Internet, and that’s what makesdownloading of our content on the Internet really such a major issue for us. WINNIE THE POOH LITIGATION CC: Let’s talk about how Disney handles IP it licenses from others.You’ve been in litigation over Winnie the Pooh for almost a decade. Recently Iread that if you lose, back royalties could equal 25 percent of Disney’s annualgross. LM: That’s totally preposterous. The actual percentage of Disney’srevenue represented by Winnie the Pooh is more in the area of 3 or 4 percent.The 25 percent figure, or $6 billion, is the size of retail sales by thirdparties. CC: OK, but, on your docket of IP matters, is the Winnie the Pooh casenear the top? LM: Well, what’s at stake in the case is important, but it has to do withthe amount of royalties that will be paid to the Slesinger Co. [the currentowner of Pooh author A.A. Milne's copyright]. Our rights are not at stake, eventhough you’ll read reports to the contrary. BATTLING CABLE COMPANIES CC: Other than protecting your content from theft or misuse, what’s themost pressing IP issue? LM: The biggest issue is making sure that our content is freelyaccessible to consumers who wish to have it. That means eliminating gatekeeperswho have the capacity — because they control the pathway into the home — toregulate what content a viewer can see. People who control the pipe into thehome and control their own content, in our view, represent the biggest threatto that accessibility. CC: Do you include the shutting off of access to Disney programming –like AOL Time Warner did in April 2000 — under the intellectual propertyprotection rubric? LM: Yes. We were very vocal about the AOL-Time Warner merger. We saw itas a significant potential for discriminating against our content, and weadvocated nondiscriminatory open access. I testified in Washington and in Brussels onthat issue. When we think our business is under threat, we are a company that’swilling to take a front-line position on the issues. We don’t do itindiscriminately, but when it comes to content protection, I think that’s oursweet spot. ������

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