In a significant turn of events, the copyright for the beloved character Mickey Mouse officially expired in January 2024, making it now public domain in the United States.
However, despite the expiration of the copyright, Disney still holds protections for the more modern versions of Mickey Mouse, featuring his distinctive red shorts and big eyes.
The Origins of the Old Mickey
Mickey was first introduced in the groundbreaking 1928 cartoon short film Steamboat Willie, which marked a pivotal moment in animation history as one of the first cartoons to use synchronized sound.
The film catapulted Mickey Mouse to iconic status, becoming a central cartoon figure in Disney's brand and pop culture.
Over the years, Disney has actively lobbied to extend copyright protection for the mouse.
The initial copyright expiration in 1984 prompted legislative changes in 1976, allowing owners to retain copyright for the duration of the author's life plus an additional 50 years.
Subsequent lobbying in 1998, alongside other entertainment companies, extended copyright protections to life of the author plus 70 years, totaling a maximum of 95 years, which ends this year.
Since the start of 2024, creative minds have taken advantage of Mickey's newfound public domain status. A trailer for a Mickey Mouse slasher-type horror film has emerged, showcasing the character in an unconventional light. Additionally, digital creators have edited Steamboat Willie footage, adding profanity to Mickey's dialogue.
The new Mickey Mouse content comes after Winnie the Pooh was declared public domain on January 1, 2022, which prompted independent creators to make the horror film "Winnie the Pooh: Blood and Honey" out of the children's book character.
In light of the expiration, Disney remains steadfast in safeguarding its rights over the more contemporary iterations of Mickey Mouse. The company emphasized this in a statement to the Associated Press, affirming its commitment to protecting "the more modern versions of Mickey Mouse and other works that remain subject to copyright."