Disney has long sought to extend the copyright on the Mickey Mouse characters, but on January 1, 2024, Mickey Mouse will officially become public domain.
Background of Mickey Mouse Copyright
The character of Mickey Mouse made its first appearance in the cartoon Steamboat Willie in 1928. The copyright law at the time protected the film, and thus the character, for 56 years, until 1984. In 1976, Congress passed the Copyright Act of 1976, which extended copyrights for works to be 50 years after the creator’s death or 75 years after the creator’s death if the creator created the work for his/her employer. This extended the famous mouse’s protection until 2004. The most recent extension to this copyright was through the Copyright Term Extension Act of 1998 which made it so works owned by individuals were protected 75 years after its publication and works created by an individual for a corporation were protected for 95 years after its publication or 120 years from its creation, whichever comes first, thus extending the life of the Mickey Mouse copyright to 2024.
What Does This Mean for Disney?
Can anyone use Mickey Mouse publicly however they would like? NO, not all Mickey Mouse imagery will be available for public use. Only the original iteration of Mickey Mouse seen in Steamboat Willie, will become public domain and free to be used by the public. Mickey Mouse has gone through a number of changes throughout the years. Those Mickeys have not yet become public domain but will as time passes. For example, Mickey Mouse, as many of us know him today, with his famous red shorts and yellow shoes, was introduced in The Band Concert in 1935 and is set to enter the public domain in 2031.
Additionally, Disney still holds the trademark for the “Mickey Mouse” name as well as a number of symbols associated with Mickey Mouse, so although the imagery of the character of Mickey Mouse will be available for use, it cannot be used in any way that would imply to the consumer that it is associated with Disney.
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