John Galt Is ‘Hitchhiking’ on Mickey Mouse’s Back: How Ayn Rand’s Atlas Shrugged Is Being Betrayed by Its Own Copyright Holders
55 Pages Posted: 9 Feb 2019
Date Written: January 27, 2019
At Thanksgiving 2018, while visiting his video-artist daughter, the author of this paper re-read Atlas Shrugged for the second time, 44 years after first reading, as described in a paper promulgated on SSRN in late January, 2019. Then a few weeks later, at Christmas 2018, while visiting his business-investor son, the author was introduced to the “alternative reality” Showtime television series The Man in the High Castle, set in an America of 1962 two-thirds-ruled by the Nazis from Germany, and one-third-ruled by Imperial Japan, due to America having lost World War II.
Atlas Shrugged being itself an “alternative-reality” novel – an America and indeed the entire world swept-over by socialism – the timing of the two events caused the author to speculate on how Atlas Shrugged could very effectively be presented as an “alternative-reality” cable television series, with the very high production values, and complex multi-character storylines, and challenging intellectual and moral content issues, that so many cable and streaming companies today do so impressively well.
The author then watched the three Atlas Shrugged movies (which fared very poorly at the box-office), to see how the film producers had conceived of their Atlas Shrugged dramatization, and to reflect on what ways they had “gone wrong” in their attempt to gain a large audience. The author, having had a 10-years’ career as a theater producer of entirely original multi-media works, prior to a 14-years’ career as a lawyer, thought that this was a project that he might pursue.
These thoughts caused the author to research into copyright in Atlas Shrugged – whereupon the author realized that under the original United States copyright term at the time of publication of Atlas Shrugged, of two 28-year terms, 56 years total, Atlas Shrugged should have become “copyright free” in the United States as of October 10, 2013.
That Atlas Shrugged was not in the “public domain” as of October 10, 2013, was due to the 1976 Copyright Act, which added 19 years to the second 28-year term. The retroactive add-on was the result of lobbying by large corporate copyright interests, such the Disney companies’ desire to extend protection of Mickey Mouse.
The author noted that the copy of Atlas Shrugged he purchased in November 2018 included on the reverse side of the title page that “Permission requests for college or textbook use should be addressed to The Estate of Ayn Rand.” Thus it was clear that the copyright holders of Atlas Shrugged are invoking the 19-year term add-on provided by the 1976 Copyright Act.
This essay provides numerous quotes and citations to Atlas Shrugged and to Ayn Rand’s May, 1964, essay on copyright, to establish that the principles of Atlas Shrugged and of Ayn Rand in her own copyright essay deny the copyright holders any legitimate right to assert any portion of that 19-year copyright-term add-on.
The essay analyzes the principles pronounced in Atlas Shrugged and applies those principles to the copyright owners themselves, establishing that they are “hitchhiking” on the unjust use of government power by large, unprincipled corporate interests, in a way that, in Atlas Shrugged, Dagny Taggart in particular comes to realize is totally contrary to her own principles.
Either the copyright owners of Atlas Shrugged do not understand the principles of the very book they claim to protect, or they do understand those principles, and greedily have decided to reject them. Either way, they are making John Galt hitchhike on the back of Mickey Mouse.
And in the philosophy of Ayn Rand, to be a “hitchhiker” on injustice committed by others for their own ends, is to play one of the most pernicious roles anyone can play in any society – because it is the “hitchhikers” who cause the acceptance of injustice to pervade the entire society.
Keywords: Intellectual Property, Copyright, Capitalism, Socialism
JEL Classification: B24, B25, B31, C71, C78, D22, D23, D45, D63, D64, F61, K11, K12, L12, L14, L26, L82, O30, O31, O34
Suggested Citation: Suggested Citation