Nearly 95 years after the creation of the beloved Disney character Mickey Mouse, the Walt Disney Company is at risk of losing intellectual property rights in the animated mouse at the end of 2024.
Mickey Mouse was first created by Walt himself back in 1928 and first appeared on screens as a character in the landmark cartoon film Steamboat Willie. Whilst Mickey’s appearance has been altered over the years, the iconic character has remained the face of Walt Disney. Mickey is easily identifiable across the world by his big round ears, red shorts and yellow shoes.
Under United States copyright law, 95 years is the maximum length of time a pseudo-anonymous body of artistic work, like Mickey Mouse, can be protected. Once copyright protection lapses, Mickey Mouse will enter the public domain. This means people can freely use the character.
Luckily for Disney, limitations will still apply. Although copyright is time-limited, trade marks are not and Disney is well protected when it comes to trade marks. Whilst people will be able to use the character to create Mickey Mouse stories, if Disney feels as though the user is stepping on Disney’s toes, it can still issue proceedings for infringement of other intellectual property rights, including trade mark infringement.
Other popular characters who have already entered the public domain include Winnie the Pooh and Sherlock Holmes. Adaptions of Sherlock Holmes have included the film “Gnomeo and Juliet” and the film “Holmes and Watson”. It will be interesting to see if any adaptions are made of the iconic Mickey Mouse character.
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