Blog / 2014 / Why Doesn’t the Kirk Reeves Mural Have Mickey Mouse Ears?

July 30, 2014

There are three answers to the question. The mural doesn’t depict Kirk wearing his Mickey Mouse hat because:

  1. I’m representing Kirk as a person not as a performer.
  2. the City didn’t want to take responsibility for use of Disney’s intellectual property.
  3. Disney wouldn’t give permission for use.

The first answer is also the final answer. It’s how I conceived of the mural to begin with and I’m glad that it’s how I’m painting it. The second and third answers seem to require a bit more explanation since so many people have told me that I shouldn’t worry about Disney at all.

mural of Working Kirk Reeves of Portland, Oregon
photo by David Vanadia

When I first proposed a portrait of Kirk for the wall on NE Grand at Lloyd, the City came back with a request that the subject be portrayed wearing the hat that so many people remembered seeing him in. I agreed to paint the ears, but only if the City took full legal and financial responsibility for use of trademarked material. The City said “no” but still tried to persuade me to take on a risk that its attorney had deemed too risky.

Baffled by Portland’s attempts to convince me to do something that it didn’t feel comfortable doing itself, I shifted the conversation. If the City wanted so badly for me to use Disney’s trademarked material, why didn’t it simply ask for permission? After all, technically speaking, IP law doesn’t forbid any use: it only requires permission for almost all use.

Now, at this juncture, I feel it’s important to make it clear that I don’t believe copyright is good for artists or that it helps them to make a living. In fact, I’m so convinced that copyright is bad that I put all of my creative output directly into the public domain, making it free for use by anybody in any way and for any reason. Still, I was working with the Regional Arts and Culture Council and with people who support copyright, so I nudged them in the appropriate direction, the one that follows naturally from their pro-copyright beliefs.

Permission was asked, and a few weeks later Disney denied the request, surprising exactly no one. After all, it’s Disney’s fault that copyright lasts as long as it does. It and the other media giants go whining to Congress every time some of their intellectual property is about to be released into the public domain, and our politicians are eager to help out these corporate persons by extending copyright a bit more.

mural of Working Kirk Reeves of Portland, Oregon
photo by David Vanadia

If the question of what goes on Kirk’s head could be put to rest by pointing at Disney’s shortsighted control-freakishness, I’d be happy enough, but it’s not working out that way at all. Many people still think I should be painting the ears. And they tell me so. A lot.

I’ve been told that I should never have asked permission, that I should do the ears anyway, and that it really wouldn’t be a big deal. And, what’s so puzzling about this is that I’m being pushed to violate IP law by people who, I’m certain, support copyright in other contexts, i.e. whenever it suits them.

I’m here to tell you that you can’t have it both ways. If you’re mad that Disney gets to say “no” to Kirk’s Mickey Mouse ear hat, do something about it! Learn about the problems copyright causes by watching this movie or reading this book. And please start using the alternative to copyright for your own creative output.

Maybe this post made you think of something you want to share with me? Or perhaps you have a question about my art? I’d love to hear from you!


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