What Hollywood Really Needs to Learn About Balance

Ginger Rogers and Fred Astaire in "Top Hat" (1935) (Public Domain/Wikimedia Commons)

Once upon a time the greatest dancer in Hollywood movies was Fred Astaire. In picture after picture, he astounded, and none of the other Hollywood dancers came close.

However, late in life, he married a young woman who, when he died took control of his estate to such a degree that, after several years, he was forgotten except by film scholars. Other dancers, like Gene Kelly, rose to pre-eminence in people's minds. Fred Astaire's widow tried so hard to control his intellectual property that she relegated him to a back room.

Meanwhile, in contrast, when Walt Disney started Disneyland, he saw the benefit of having every child who came to Disneyland become a wing of Disney's marketing efforts. He said that each child who leaves the park wearing a Mickey Mouse hat is advertising Disneyland.

Recently, I was with a film professor who entered one of those Star Wars mini film contests. Like Disney, these contests recognize that everyone who enters them becomes part of the marketing wing of the Star Wars franchise.

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In copyright law, there's tension between two of the best law schools, NYU and Duke. Duke takes the position that there should be freedom of ideas and minimum copyright protections for a minimum period of time, whereas NYU, where I went to law school, takes the position that copyrights should be extended and be in the control of the author of the property. Being an author, I understand this. For many authors, their copyrights are their sources of income. For studios, however, their movies are their sources of income.

On the other hand, there must be a balance. Or, like Fred Astaire, the great actors, directors and authors of the past will be forgotten, relegated to a dusty file in the copyright office.

Dr. Baehr is launching his latest book, "Reel to Real: 45 Movie Devotions for Families," which explores the intersection of biblical truth with meanings of movies. You can learn more at movieguide.org/book.

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