Breaking Free of the IP Freeze: Happy New Year!

“Frozen” broke most box office records. And turned out to be the highest grosser for Disney studios. And yet this maverick of a movie almost never came to pass. Until a creative set of screen writers decided that they would stray from the parent script …one conjured up more than a century ago by Hans Christian Anderson, the celebrated childrens’ writer. Anderson wove his basic story around the “Snow Queen”, an evil queen who unleashes her freezing power upon the world and locks up a lad who is finally rescued by the loving kiss of a lass!

Disney tried very hard to translate this story to the big screen…for well over seven decades! And yet something didn’t feel right. Finally, a new set of script writers decided that they didn’t need to stick to the basic Anderson script. Rather, they could rescript the narrative ….to create something more nuanced, more sophisticated and more reflective of our complex personalities.

And so they unleash a story where the queen (Elsa) is neither good nor evil ….but a tortured soul. Someone who struggles with her hidden powers (to freeze things around her and destroy those that she loves), but finally comes to terms with it after a prolonged period of isolation and the lasting love of a dear sibling (Anna).

I watched this on a long haul flight and have, ever since been intrigued—for I found it to significantly sophisticated for a Disney movie. Indeed, as this piece in the New Yorker notes (and I think it really nails it):

“The story keeps the audience engaged because it subverts expected tropes and stereotypes, over and over…..It’s the furthest thing from a typical princess movie. It spins Disney on its head…….[E]veryone could identify with Elsa. She wasn’t your typical princess. She wasn’t your typical Disney character. Born with magical powers that she couldn’t quite control, she meant well but caused harm, both on a personal scale (hurting her sister, repeatedly) and a global one (cursing her kingdom, by mistake). She was flawed—actually flawed, in a way that resulted in real mistakes and real consequences. Everyone could interpret her in a unique way and find that the arc of her story applied directly to them. For some, it was about emotional repression; for others, about gender and identity; for others still, about broader social acceptance and depression.”

As this year draws to a close and we ready ourselves for the new one, Frozen offers valuable lessons for our IP debates, that have unfortunately remained stuck in an age old groove of black vs white! And Pro IP vs Anti IP.

A point I made in this presentation at WIPO earlier this year on the theme: “IP and Development”. For more on this wonderfully conceptualised and organised conference, see this well written piece in the Intellectual Property Watch.

If “Frozen” teaches us anything, it is this: we need to unfreeze our icy IP debates and rescript the narrative. Much like the movie, we need to let it go! And find the love within. For without it, how do we thaw the frozen IP hearts on either side of the ideological divide? As the sagacious singer Sting once sang in the context of the cold war: “We share the same biology, regardless of ideology….I hope the Russians love their children too.”

And on that molten note, let me (on behalf of the entire SpicyIP team) wish you all a delightful new year…one filled with fun, flight and fantasy!

ps: This post is dedicated to Tara, an absolutely adorable 6 year old whose near obsession with “Frozen” is what inspired me to watch the movie in the first place. Tara is connected to the Indian IP world in more ways than one, being the child of two of the country’s finest IP lawyers, Ameet Datta and his better half, Monica (who incidentally represents Disney and is one of the key lawyers tasked with legally clearing their local movie scripts).

pps: To see the videos of the WIPO International Conference on IP and development, do click on this link here. Then scroll down to a section that says “Videos on Demand”. And select the one towards the fag end of the scroll list (the entry is 6th from the bottom) titled “WIPO/IPDA/GE/16: International Conference on IP and Development”. For those interested, my talk (which features Frozen and its lessons for the IP world) is part of the very first video and begins at 1.25 hours.


Shamnad Basheer

Prof. (Dr.) Shamnad Basheer founded SpicyIP in 2005. He's also the Founder of IDIA, a project to train underprivileged students for admissions to the leading law schools. He served for two years as an expert on the IP global advisory council (GAC) of the World Economic Forum (WEF). In 2015, he received the Infosys Prize in Humanities in 2015 for his work on legal education and on democratising the discourse around intellectual property law and policy. The jury was headed by Nobel laureate, Prof. Amartya Sen. Professional History: After graduating from the NLS, Bangalore Prof. Basheer joined Anand and Anand, one of India’s leading IP firms. He went on to head their telecommunication and technology practice and was rated by the IFLR as a leading technology lawyer. He left for the University of Oxford to pursue post-graduate studies, completing the BCL, MPhil and DPhil as a Wellcome Trust scholar. His first academic appointment was at the George Washington University Law School, where he served as the Frank H Marks Visiting Associate Professor of IP Law. He then relocated to India in 2008 to take up the MHRD Chaired Professorship in IP Law at WB NUJS, a leading Indian law school. Later, he was the Honorary Research Chair of IP Law at Nirma University and also a visiting professor of law at the National Law School (NLS), Bangalore. Prof. Basheer has published widely and his articles have won awards, including those instituted by ATRIP, the Stanford Technology Law Review and CREATe. He was consulted widely by the government, industry, international organisations and civil society on a variety of IP issues. He also served on several government committees.

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