DeSantis May Be Learning What The Copyright World Has Always Known: Disney’s Lawyers Don’t Fuck Around

from the don’t-fuck-with-the-mouse dept

We’ve already covered how Florida man Governor Ron DeSantis flipped out that Disney, the largest employer in his state, offered some mild criticism over one of his unconstitutional censorship bills, and decided to retaliate by (1) removing the stupid questionable “theme park exemption” his office had directly worked with Disney to insert into his unconstitutional social media bill and (2) move to take control over the special board that that had been set up decades ago, giving Disney effective control over everything around Disney World.

Now, to be clear, the whole setup of what’s called the “Reedy Creek Improvement District” was quite sketchy. And there are plenty of legitimate reasons to do away with it. But doing good things for bad reasons is still bad, and when it’s done in retaliation for speech criticizing the governor, it’s unconstitutional.

Either way, DeSantis needs more culture war battles to constantly fight if he’s going to keep his name in the headlines for his 2024 Presidential hopes, so of course he was going to keep up with the plan. A month ago, DeSantis basically replaced all the members of the Reedy Creek board with his own lackeys.

But, in a move that will surprise absolutely no one who has been following Disney’s legal shenanigans for decades (i.e., anyone who follows copyright…), Disney’s lawyers don’t fuck around.

Earlier this week it came out that right before the handover in power, the old (Disney controlled) board effectively voted to strip itself of nearly all of its power… and to give it to Disney, effectively forever.

I mean, it’s evil, but also somewhat brilliant in its audacity.

And, while Team DeSantis is crying foul about how this was done in secret, it turns out that they held a public vote on the matter the day before DeSantis initiated his takeover. If DeSantis and friends had, you know, been actually paying attention, they might have noticed, rather than only finding out after being installed into an effectively empty, ceremonial role.

As Joe Patrice, over at Above the Law, notes, Disney’s lawyers are better than Ron DeSantis’ lawyers. And, part of it is in the way that they tried to make this transfer of power last: they say it will be “effective in perpetuity.”

But! One of those legal terms that gets thrown here and there more for being “legalistic sounding” rather than something that actually comes up all that often is the “rule against perpetuities” which is pretty much what it says on the tin: says you can’t create a perpetual interest in property that outlives anyone living at the time of the deal. Wikipedia’s summary is actually pretty good here:

The rule against perpetuities is a legal rule in the common law that prevents people from using legal instruments (usually a deed or a will) to exert control over the ownership of private property for a time long beyond the lives of people living at the time the instrument was written. Specifically, the rule forbids a person from creating future interests (traditionally contingent remainders and executory interests) in property that would vest beyond 21 years after the lifetimes of those living at the time of creation of the interest, often expressed as a “life in being plus twenty-one years”. In essence, the rule prevents a person from putting qualifications and criteria in a deed or a will that would continue to affect the ownership of property long after he or she has died, a concept often referred to as control by the “dead hand” or “mortmain“.

The new agreement Disney cooked up more or less first tries to ignore that, but then says that if it comes up, the deal basically lasts right up until the latest date possible under the rule of perpetuities: 21 years after a relatively newborn infant dies. And… they chose all of the grandchildren of King Charles.

No. Really. It’s right there.

That says:

Term. This Declaration shall be deemed as of the Effective Date and continue to be effective in perpetuity unless all or certain portions of the provisions of this Declaration are expressly terminated as provided elsewhere herein; provided, however, that if the perpetual term of this Declaration is deemed to violate the “Rule Against Perpetuities,” or any similar law or rule, this Declaration shall continue in effect until twenty one (21) years after the death of the last survivor of the descendants of King Charles III, King of England living as of the date of this Declaration….

It’s a nice touch to cover all of Charles’ grandkids as a hedge in case any of them die young.

DeSantis is not happy about this, and you can actually understand why. I mean, this whole setup is bullshit. But, then again, so was his retaliation move. And the original Reedy Creek setup. All of it is bullshit. Up and down the stack.

There are no winners here, only assholes and losers.

But, it’s pretty rich to see DeSantis lose his mind over being outplayed like this.

Of course, this isn’t over yet. DeSantis’ lackey, Florida Attorney General Ashley Moody is already demanding records from the February 8th meeting where all this went down with no one noticing.

We have no love for Disney over here at Techdirt. The company has long been terrible and problematic, in part because of it’s ridiculously aggressive lawyering. This really seems like one of those situations where it would be nice if both of them could lose in the most embarrassing manner possible.

Still, all this makes me wonder what kind of bullshit Disney’s lawyers are going to pull on December 31st as the clock ticks down to Mickey Mouse entering the public domain…

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Companies: disney, reedy creek

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