The sign on the window of Red Rhino, a popular barbecue restaurant in central Paris, has been up for a month: "Closed until further notice due to lack of personnel." Bus and train service has been cut back in the tourist city of Lyon amid a dearth of drivers. In the Loire Valley, tons of vegetables went unharvested in the summer as thousands of picking jobs were left unfilled.
Economic activity has fitfully revved up again in France and across Europe since the end of COVID-19 lockdowns, only to be knocked back by the effects of Russia's war in Ukraine. Even so, employers in numerous industries remain desperate to hire, with a range of businesses still not finding the workers needed to operate at capacity.
All of which has prompted France, Europe's second-largest economy, to seek a variety of solutions — all of them politically combustible.
President Emmanuel Macron's government is proposing a fast-track legalization for migrants in the country illegally who want to work in sectors facing staff shortages.
For added measure, the government is moving to tighten France's famously generous unemployment system, with its lengthy benefits, in a bid to cycle jobless people more quickly back into the workforce.
The plans have met with resistance from different ends of the political spectrum. Lawmakers from France's rising far right say a growing influx of migrants must be brought under tighter control and that French nationals should be given priority for jobs. The country's powerful labor unions are warning that measures to cut jobless benefits risk pushing the unemployed toward poverty.
For thousands of businesses that form the backbone of the economy, the double-barreled approach has become necessary to help fix to what appears to be a permanent shift in workplace dynamics since the pandemic, as European workers in droves switch jobs or decide not to return to strenuous work that demands early or late hours on relatively low pay. Over half a million people in France resigned in the first three months of the year, the highest level in 15 years, France's statistics agency reported.
"Our society after the pandemic has a different outlook," said Thierry Marx, a Michelin-starred French chef who is the president of UMIH, France's influential trade association of restaurants and hotels. "People are saying, I don't want to have a sacrificial relationship to work."
Mickey's Copyright Adventure: Early Disney Creation Will Soon Be Public Property 米奇版權奇遇記：迪士尼早期創作將成公共財
For the first time, one of The Walt Disney Co.'s marquee characters — Mickey himself — is set to enter the public domain. "Steamboat Willie," the 1928 short film that introduced Mickey to the world, will lose copyright protection in the United States and a few other countries at the end of this year, prompting fans, copyright experts and potential Mickey grabbers to wonder: How is the notoriously litigious Disney going to respond?
The matter is more complicated than it appears, and those who try to capitalize on the expiring "Steamboat Willie" copyright could easily end up in a legal mousetrap.
Only one copyright is expiring. It covers the original version of Mickey Mouse as seen in "Steamboat Willie," an eight-minute short with little plot. This nonspeaking Mickey has a ratlike nose, rudimentary eyes (no pupils) and a long tail.
Later versions of the character remain protected by copyrights, including the sweeter, rounder Mickey with red shorts and white gloves most familiar to audiences today. They will enter the public domain at different points over the coming decades.
"Disney has regularly modernized the character, not necessarily as a program of copyright management, at least initially, but to keep up with the times," said Jane C. Ginsburg, an authority on intellectual property law who teaches at Columbia University.
The expiration of the "Steamboat Willie" copyright means that the black-and-white short can be shown without Disney's permission and even resold by third parties. (There may not be much sales value left, however. Disney posted it for free on YouTube years ago.) It also means that anyone can make use of the film and the original Mickey to further expression — to create new stories and artwork.
Of course, it does get tricky: Disney also holds trademarks on its characters, including the "Steamboat Willie" version of Mickey Mouse, and trademarks never expire as long as companies keep submitting the proper paperwork. A copyright covers a specific creation (unauthorized copying), but trademarks are designed to protect against consumer confusion — to provide consumers assurance about the source and quality of a creation.
Boiled down, any public domain use of the original Mickey cannot be perceived as coming from Disney, Ginsburg explained. This protection is strong, she added, because the character, even in his early form, has such close association with the company.