17 February 2006


or, "The Lion Finally Sleeps Tonight and Could We Please Talk About Something Worthwhile?"

"Blackrobemailing" is the process of using a lawsuit, and its attendant publicity and costs, as a way of obtaining negotiating leverage—usually with little regard for the merit of the lawsuit. One obvious example is the so-called "strike suit"; another is a SLAPP suit. These kinds of actions are far from unknown in the arts and in intellectual property. Sometimes they do have merit; sometimes they do not. The objective is to make it easier for the other side to settle for a relatively small amount (always far less than demanded in the complaint) than to continue fighting, or on occasion—as in SLAPP suits—agree to take (or discontinue) certain actions.

All of which leads to a bunch of talking, singing, dancing cartoon animals. If you had kids between the ages of 2 and 10 during the 1990s, you either know about The Lion King or were living on Pluto. Whether or not you succumbed to Disney's marketing campaigns and bought anything, you couldn't avoid seeing it. And, due to the way the marketing campaigns were constructed, you probably couldn't avoid hearing the Disneyfied English-language version of "The Lion Sleeps Tonight." I suspect that the kids might be just a little bit upset to hear that the song is actually about hunting (and eating) the lions… <SARCASM> but far be it from Disney to disrespect the cultural and artistic context of something it can adapt to make a few bucks. </SARCASM>

In any event, the ultimate result of the lawsuit in South Africa appears to be a settlement for a back-payment of around $15k and the right to some "future profit participation." (I hope someone told the lawyers who negotiated the settlement that "profits" almost never happen in Hollywood…) In an abstract sense, I'm sort of sad to see this case go away. Not only is it a great factual background for an exam question, but it exposes a severe renvoi problem in intellectual property and cultural artifact law that is only going to get bigger as time goes by.