Mickey Mouse in his earliest form is set to enter the public domain in 2024 as a result of the expiry of the copyright vested in him. Disney’s renowned character first appeared in the 1928 short film ‘Steamboat Willie’ and has gone on to become one of the most iconic characters in pop culture. However, 95 years after Steamboat Willie first introduced Mickey to audiences, copyright protection of the same is set to expire in America.
Copyright vested in the Mickey Mouse which features in the film Steamboat Willie has been set to expire several times previously, but the duration of copyright protection has been extended numerous times in the United States over the span of Mickey’s lifetime. The extension is often referred to as the ‘Mickey Mouse Protection Act’. Though, it was not just Disney advocating for the extension of rights, many copyright holders have benefited such extensions.
Despite the expiration of copyright protection, it is likely that permitted public use of the character will remain limited for a number of reasons. First, only the copyright covering the original version of Mickey Mouse as seen in Steamboat Willie is expiring therefore, any use of later versions of the character, such as those featuring the iconic red shorts and white gloves may result in infringement. Secondly, Disney uploaded the black and white short film to YouTube for free in 2009, limiting the remaining sales value. Finally, Disney still holds a trademark registration on the earliest version of Mickey Mouse.
The release of controversial horror film ‘Winnie the Pooh: Blood and Honey’, which occurred following the entrance of A.A. Milne’s original ‘Winnie the Pooh’ into the public domain in 2022 provides an insight into the potential future of Disney’s most beloved character. It is to be seen if any third parties will fall into a legal mousetrap surrounding this Mouse’s protection.
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