At least the first version of Mickey Mouse enters public domainon January 1, 2024. The 1928 animated short Steamboat Willie, which was directed by Walt Disney and Ub Iwerks, features Mickey Mouse. This marks the end of The Walt Disney Company's copyright in the U.S. and the start of the unknown waters of public use.
Thanks to extensions of copyright holding periods allowed by the U.S. Congress several times, up to 95 years, Mickey and Disney have been able to put this day off for many years. People have called these changes to the law the "Mickey Mouse Protection Act," but many other people who owned rights to the things in question worked hard to get an extra 20 years of protection for them.
Mickey Mouse in Steamboat Willie version
As the clock ticks to usher in 2024, a momentous shift is set to occur in the realm of intellectual property, with none other than Mickey Mouse taking center stage. Marking a historic milestone, the 1928 short film "Steamboat Willie," featuring the beloved Mickey and Minnie Mouse, is poised to enter the public domain, breaking free from the confines of Disney's copyright.
The impending liberation of Mickey Mouse is a result of U.S. copyright law, which grants a 95-year protection period. The notorious “Mickey Mouse Protection Act,” as it's colloquially called, has seen extensions over the years, and now, the mischievous, rat-like boat captain version of Mickey in "Steamboat Willie" is ready to make its debut as a public treasure.
It’s sometimes derisively referred to as the Mickey Mouse Protection Act. That’s oversimplified because it wasn’t just Disney that was pushing for term extension. It was a whole group of copyright holders whose works were set to go into the public domain soon, who benefited greatly from the 20 years of extra protection.- Jennifer Jenkins
Disney, however, remains steadfast in asserting that the essence of Mickey Mouse will endure beyond the copyright expiration. A spokesperson for the entertainment giant stated:
Ever since Mickey Mouse’s first appearance in the 1928 short film Steamboat Willie, people have associated the character with Disney’s stories, experiences, and authentic products. That will not change when the copyright in the Steamboat Willie film expires.- Jennifer Jenkins
The liberated Mickey, though, comes with limitations. Only the character's portrayal in "Steamboat Willie" becomes public, leaving the more contemporary iterations under Disney's protective wing. The statement from Disney assures that modern versions of Mickey will remain unaffected, emphasizing his continued role as a global ambassador for the Walt Disney Company.
The landscape of copyright battles may shift as courts discern the boundaries of Disney’s ownership. Not every feature or personality trait of a character is necessarily copyrightable, leaving room for legal nuances and debates in the years to come.
Disney asserts its commitment to safeguarding the modern versions of Mickey Mouse and other copyrighted works. While the iconic character steps into the public domain in one manifestation, Disney remains unwavering in its ownership of the trademark, preventing deceptive use and safeguarding against unauthorized exploitation of its beloved characters.
As "Steamboat Willie," a groundbreaking creation directed by Walt Disney and Ub Iwerks, readies itself for a new chapter outside the bounds of copyright, the world watches with anticipation to see how the legacy of Mickey Mouse unfolds in this era of evolving intellectual property laws.
Mickey Mouse, one of the most famous fictional figures of all time, will become public domain in 2024, but some very strict rules must be followed. This only talks about Mickey Mouse's first showing in Steamboat Willie in 1928. It doesn't talk about how the character looks now.
US law says that a copyright can be kept for 95 years. In 2024, Steamboat Willie's version of Mickey Mouse will become public domain. Over the years, Disney and other businesses were able to convince Congress to extend the copyright period, which now lasts 95 years.