Disney set to lose legal fight to protect Mickey Mouse copyright

In 2024, the original version of Mickey Mouse is set to enter the public domain, nearly a hundred years after it premiered in the 1928 animated short "Steamboat Willie." The expiration of the copyright on this version of Mickey is due to current copyright law, which dictates that copyright must expire after 95 years. Interestingly, it was Disney itself that played a role in making copyright's lifespan that long.

Originally, the copyright protecting the "Steamboat Willie" Mickey Mouse was set to expire in 1984. However, in the 1970s, Disney successfully lobbied to extend the copyright lifespan by another 20 years, resulting in the Copyright Act of 1976. Then, in 1998, Disney once again lobbied for an extension, leading to the Copyright Term Extension Act, which is colloquially known as the "Mickey Mouse Protection Act." This law is still in effect today.

While the Steamboat Willie version of Mickey Mouse will enter the public domain, Disney does not need to be concerned about impostor Mickeys popping up around the world. Any altered version of the character that the company creates will be copyrighted, and all modern depictions of Mickey Mouse are protected. Additionally, Disney owns trademarks on the modern incarnation of Mickey Mouse, providing further protection for the brand's mascot.

It is worth noting that this is not the first time an iconic character has entered the public domain. In 2022, the initial version of Winnie the Pooh became free to use. However, it is unlikely that we will see a horror movie featuring Steamboat Willie, as Disney remains committed to preserving the character's role as a global ambassador for the company.

In summary, the expiration of the copyright on the original Mickey Mouse from "Steamboat Willie" in 2024 marks a significant milestone in copyright law. While the public domain status of this version of Mickey opens up possibilities for creative use, Disney's trademarks and copyrights on their modern depictions ensure that the character's legacy and brand identity remain protected.


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