A seemingly innocuous showbiz headline flashed on my screen today. It noted that Disney's 1994 animated blockbuster The Lion King was number one in the U.S. box office for a second week, even though it's a reissue!
Lion King is one of the top grossing films of all time -- and reportedly the highest grossing of all hand-drawn animated films.
Needless to say, the Lion King movie itself -- and its vast array of merchandising and spin-offs -- have been a gold mine for Disney, and you can be sure that anyone Disney has found to be ripping off the franchise -- as in illegal copies flowing around the Internet -- could find themselves subject to a full range of civil and criminal sanctions. Under the PROTECT IP Act being pushed through Congress, the ramifications for Lion King thievery would be even more severe.
But there's something particularly interesting about Disney's Lion King, that makes it a fascinating example of how media power itself can be used in dishonest ways.
Because almost certainly, Lion King -- the franchise, the film and all that flows from them -- is itself purloined, stolen, ripped-off.
Fans of 1960s Japanese Anime realized this almost immediately when Lion King was released 17 years ago.
Though Disney has always denied it and claimed coincidence, characters and plot elements from Lion King were obviously lifted from Jungle Emperor ( ジャングル大帝 -- Jungle Taitei) -- known in the U.S. as Kimba the White Lion.
The degree of parallels is nothing short of remarkable -- and far outside the realm of any conceivable coincidence in a rational analysis.
A number of YouTube videos have even explored this controversy in detail, illustrating the intellectual property theft from Kimba scene by scene. Two good examples are: The Lion King - Homage or Stealing and Lion King - An Overview on Kimba and Interesting Facts.
Watch them for yourselves. See what you think.
The fate of the Western World no doubt doesn't rest on the vast sums (reportedly approaching a billion dollars) that Lion King the film has fed into Disney's coffers.
But for those of us concerned about intellectual property issues, and in particular the apparent desires of some in the media empires to remake the Internet "in their own image," Kimba vs. Lion King is a fascinating case.
I have friends in the movie and other entertainment industries here in L.A. who are hard workers, and they're understandably concerned about their futures in an age of rapid Internet-induced technology changes.
But this doesn't excuse the fact that some leaders of the entertainment empires are pushing Congress to create vast new classes of "casual copying criminals" -- while pushing for technological changes to core Internet technologies that are affronts to Net security and stability -- and to civil rights as well.
These corporate media moguls are always ready and willing to declare Internet users to be crooks and thieves who should be massively fined and in some cases even imprisoned. In so many of these cases, the punishments being deployed are massively far too serious -- far out of scale -- for the offenses involved.
And while clearly there are some serious intellectual property crooks out there, who truly do deserve significant sanctions, it seems only fair to note that when it comes to making crime pay, there are cases where the media giants themselves make everyone else look like rank amateurs.
Kimba, at least, certainly deserved better.