January 1, 2024 marked a significant milestone in the history of intellectual property: Mickey Mouse, Disney‘s iconic creation, entered the public domain with the expiration of the copyright of the original 1928 version, “Steamboat Willie”.
This release unleashed a wave of creativity and controversy surrounding the world’s most famous mouse.
The loss of copyright protection allowed people to explore new forms of artistic expression.
In a matter of hours, remixes of the famous Steamboat Willie whistle turned into dubstep emerged, as well as the creation of NFTs and parodies that challenged the traditional Disney narrative.
Two notable projects quickly emerged: “Mickey’s Mouse Trap,” a horror film featuring a masked killer dressed as Mickey Mouse, and “Infestation 88,” a horror video game where the ghostly appearance of Steamboat Willie chases the player through a warehouse dark.
These contrasting depictions of Mickey Mouse challenged the company’s conventional narratives.
The history of Mickey Mouse copyright is complex.
The rights to “Steamboat Willie” were originally expected to expire in 1984, but Disney was influential in extending the deadline repeatedly, culminating in the “Mickey Mouse Protection Act” of 1998, which extended the rights until the end of 2023.
However, the implications of entering the public domain vary depending on the copyright laws of each country.
While in the United States the original version has lost its protection, in some jurisdictions, such as those that grant protection up to 70 years after the death of the last creator, Mickey Mouse will remain protected until at least 2042.
Although the original incarnation of Steamboat Willie is now in the public domain, later iterations of Mickey Mouse are still protected by copyright.
Additionally, Mickey is a trademark, allowing Disney to maintain control over certain aspects of the character and its modern depictions.
Disney has made it clear that it will continue to protect its rights to modern versions of Mickey Mouse.
Despite the release of “Steamboat Willie,” the company will continue to maintain its influence over the character’s contemporary image in various forms of entertainment and merchandise.