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Disney chief Eisner recruits Abe Lincoln in piracy fight

Vaclav Havel also implicated...

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Disney CEO Michael Eisner has recruited Abraham Lincoln, Vaclav Havel, Douglass North and Sigmund Eisner (relation) for his campaign against intellectual property pilfering on the Internet. And we want some of whatever his speech writers are smoking.

In a piece published in today's Financial Times, Eisner announces that Lincoln would have been thrilled by the Internet, describes him as a "great patenter," and finds some favourable comment from Lincoln on patenting. Before patents, "any man might instantly use what another had invented; so that the inventor had no special advantage from his own invention. The patent system changed this; secured to the inventor, for a limited time, the exclusive use of his invention; and thereby added the fuel of interest to the fire of genius, in the discovery and production of new and useful things."

He may also have mentioned copyright, but on this Eisner is silent. Lincoln's status as a great patenter, incidentally, stems from a single patent (one more than your average US president, we grant you) for a device for lifting riverboats over shoals. It never went into production, and from the look of the model now in the Smithsonian, we think we have an inkling why.

Poor old Vaclav Havel's contribution to Eisner's opus is somewhat more tenuous. Oblivious to the massive hostage to fortune he was creating, he wrote in 1995: "the inviolability of private ownership ... enable man to live in dignity, freedom, and responsibility." Conclusive stuff, no?

Professor Douglass North contributes the observation that the steam ship did not replace the sailing ship until 100 years after the invention of the steam engine, patented in 1769, because "back then, inventors were not assured of the rewards that would derive from the ownership of their ideas." We're not sure we follow the logic here, but as he's a Nobel prizewinner and we aren't, we'll pass swiftly on Sigmund Eisner, Michael's grandfather, who taught his father not to steal. Down the generations this has been refined, so now Michael himself says: "I instructed my children that they could not slip a comic book under their shirt and sneak out of the store."

Back with Abe, Eisner says "he undoubtedly would have disdained those who go to sites with names such as Gnutella, Madster, BearShare, Limewire, Swaptor, Morpheus or Rapigator to pilfer the intellectual property of others." Indeed.

Not, of course, that there's any question that Eisner has had this nonsense made up solely to plead the case of Disney Corp: "In writing this, I am not just speaking from the self-interest of the head of an entertainment company. For me, theft of property, via the internet or any other way, is not only alarming because of the material loss but also disconcerting because it implies the loss of the moral compass on which our society is based." Indeed. ®

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