February 10, 2006
Trade: Michaels for Oswald
Posted by Gordon Smith

When Al Michaels expressed his desire to leave ABC for NBC, Bob Iger had a brainstrom. As readers of Conglomerate will remember, Iger is the CEO of ABC's parent, the Walt Disney Company, and he suggested a trade: Michaels for Oswald the Lucky Rabbit. NBC agreed.

Here is Oswald's story:

Oswald The first Oswald cartoon was Trolley Troubles, released September 5, 1927. Between that year and the next, Disney's studio produced over two dozen black and white, silent Oswald cartoons, which were very favorably received by reviewers.

Even then, however, Disney constantly strove for higher and higher quality, and as a result, the cartoons became more and more expensive to produce. In 1928, Disney went to New York to approach his distributor, Charles Mintz (representing Universal Studios), about an increase in his budget. Mintz not only refused — he actually told Disney to accept a 20% cut in the budget, or Universal, which was the legal owner of the series, would give it to another studio.

WillieRather than accept the cut, Disney relinquished his creation, making Charles Mintz the first of many who thought, wrongly, that they could assume Disney's success simply by hiring or hijacking someone or something away from him. Mintz gave the series to his brother-in-law, George Winkler, who set up his own studio, manned by several ex-Disney animators, to produce new Oswald cartoons for Universal.

So why didn't Universal sue to enjoin Disney's use of Mickey Mouse under copyright? Was Oswald copyrighted? Or was changing the ears enough to avoid copyright?

And one last burning question: does Oswald look more like a rabbit than Mickey looks like a mouse?

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