Mickey Mouse soon in the public domain
In fact, on January 1, 2024, the character of Mickey Mouse will fall into the public domain. 95 years after the creation of the little mouse (1928), Disney will no longer have its exclusivity. How will the studio react?
The biggest year for the Disney group was 1928, which was a pivotal year for Hollywood, since it was the date when Walt Disney and Ub Iwerks created the famous Mickey Mouse. Indeed, it is with the animated short film Willie’s Steamboat (Steamboat Willie in the original version) that we discovered for the first time the little mouse. A film in which Mickey already resembled like two drops of water to the character we know today, except for one detail: Mickey wore a hat.
This short film, which lasts less than 10 minutes, tells the story of Mickey and Pat who work on a cargo ship. They embark on an eventful journey on a turbulent river with Minnie as their only passenger. The short film is available on Disney+.
The reason we’re talking about this short is that in less than two years, on January 1, 2024, Willie’s Steamboat will be in the public domain, and Mickey with it. Disney will then no longer be able to prevent other artists, studios or companies from using Mickey as they see fit under U.S. copyright law. In the past, Disney has lobbied the U.S. administration to change this law, with success.
So things can still change. And Disney will do everything in its power to lobby again. In 1928, the copyright term law in the United States was 56 years. In the 1970s, Disney and other studios lobbied for a change in the law. Protection was then extended to 75 years. Then, in the 1990s, it happened again. Again, the law was changed to 95 years of protection. In fact, every time Disney or other large companies are about to lose the copyright on certain works or characters, this debate comes up.
Given the importance of Mickey, Disney should not give up until it wins its case. It remains to be seen whether the American administration is ready to give an additional period of time to copyright protection. 95 years is already a very long time. Therefore, a work can only outlive its author. And thus become the treasure of film empires and mega-corporations. Is this really a good solution? We leave it to you to judge.
In any case, Mickey would not be the first Disney character to enter the public domain. Recently, Winnie the Pooh had the same fate and became free of rights. This allowed Rhys Frake-Waterfield to use the image of the friendly little bear for his horror movie Winnie the Pooh: Blood and Honey. Just goes to show that the public domain can allow artists to reinvent works and characters in new ways! Other iconic characters could soon fall into the public domain if the law is not changed. This is the case for many superheroes, such as Batman (1939) and Superman (1932).