The Mouse Roars
Scott Silver, of Bend, Oregon, was hoping for attention when he staged a national day of protest against the government’s controversial recreation fee program. But he wasn’t necessarily expecting a belicose letter from a top attorney with Disney Enterprises.
Silver, executive director of Oregon-based Wild Wilderness group, opposes the fee project, which charges members of the public a few dollars each time they visit a national forest trailhead or other recreation site.
He claims that the program, known as “fee demo,” was conceived by corporate recreation interests—Disney among them—which hope to transform public lands into money-generating commodities. Silver calls the process the “Disneyfication” of nature, or public lands “wreckreation.”
As part of the August 14 protest, Silver ordered 127 T-shirts embellished with a Disney parody. The shirts depict a cheerful bear (think Smokey) clutching a few dollars and wearing mouse ears emblazoned with the government’s fee logo. In the background, a dirt biker pops a wheelie in front of an enchanted castle nestled in a mountain wilderness.
Several protesters across the country, including ones in Southern California, wore the T-shirts during the day of protest. Disney was not amused.
In an August 19 letter, Disney senior counsel J. Andrew Coombs advised Silver that the T-shirts constituted copyright infringement. He wrote that “the Product incorporates repeated references which are intended to foster an association with Disney. These include the phrase ‘The Wonderful World of …,’ the castle in the background in addition to the mouse ears.” The letter goes on to demand that Silver destroy all of the T-shirts in his possession and provide written assurance that no more will be manufactured or distributed.
In his response to Coombs, Silver struck a less-than-conciliatory tone. He accused Disney of trying to “harass and intimidate environmental activists who chose to speak out against America’s Biggest Rat.” He said he had already distributed all of the T-shirts except three, which he saved for himself, his wife and his nine-year-old son. Protesters were simply exercising their right to free speech when they donned the T-shirts, he said.
“It is true that corporations such as Disney do their best to stifle these rights every chance they get,” Silver wrote, “but so far you have failed to suppress my right to engage in political commentary. Perhaps a few more million dollars in political contributions will do the trick. Or perhaps you’d prefer to sue a volunteer activist in the hope that I will stop rubbing Mickey’s nose in his own excrement.”
So far, Silver said he had received no response from Disney. Coombs did not return telephone calls seeking comment, nor did Disney public relations officials.
Silver has spoken with a lawyer who assured him that the entertainment giant does not have a valid case against him.
“But it’s clear that if they want to make my life miserable, they can do that quite easily,” Silver said. “I have nothing to gain from being meek.”
This article originally printed in Nov/Dec, 1999 issue of Forest Magazine.