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Cartoons: The earliest Micky Mouse, 95, becomes free from Disney’s copyright

Cartoons: The earliest Micky Mouse, 95, becomes free from Disney’s copyright


Virendra Pandit 


New Delhi: With The Walt Disney Company losing the Micky Mouse copyright along with many others, the world-famous cartoon’s earliest version has entered the public domain as its copyright expired under the US law on the last day of 2023, after an exciting 95-year-long entertaining journey throughout the planet.

Micky Mouse’s first screen release in the 1928 short film Steamboat Willie, featuring Micky and Minnie Mouse, became available for public use on Monday, the media reported.

The current copyright term was passed in 1998 but the US Congress is unlikely to expand it further. This is close yet different from the European Union law, where one’s intellectual property is protected until 70 years after the creator’s death or 70 years after the death of the last surviving author in the case of a work of joint authorship.

So, the iconic American cartoon character Mickey Mouse has now entered the public domain. At least the oldest version of the quintessential piece of intellectual property is free from Disney’s copyright.

The US law allows a copyright for 95 years. Some also referred to this law as the “Mickey Mouse Protection Act”. However, it wasn’t just Disney that sought multiple-term expansions on the law. Several copyright holders, whose works could slip into the public domain, benefited, the media reported.

Because of the 95-year condition, the subsequent versions of the character won’t be affected by the expiration of the Steamboat Willie copyright. The law applies only to the non-speaking boat captain Mickey, who appeared in the 1928 film.

More modern versions of Mickey remain subject to copyright, and the character will continue to play a leading role as a global ambassador for the Walt Disney Company in storytelling, theme park attractions, and merchandise, the media quoted Disney as saying in a statement on the matter.

Ever since Mickey Mouse’s first appearance in the 1928 short film Steamboat Willie, people have associated the character with Disney’s stories, experiences, and authentic products, a Disney spokesperson said. “That will not change when the copyright in the Steamboat Willie film expires.”

While the character has entered the public domain, the leading entertainment major still holds the rights over the trademark of Mickey as a corporate mascot and brand identifier. The character cannot be used deceptively to indicate that the product is from the original creator, Disney.

Disney’s statement said it “will work to safeguard against consumer confusion caused by unauthorized uses of Mickey and our other iconic characters.”

The nearly century-old short film features Mickey captaining a boat and making musical instruments out of other animals. The song inspired the title of the Buster Keaton film Steamboat Bill Jr, which was released just a few months before Steamboat Willi. Keaton’s film has been in the public domain since 1956, as its copyright was not renewed.

Another popular fictional character, Tigger, along with Winnie the Pooh, has also entered the public domain as the book in which the bouncing tiger first appeared, The House at Pooh Corner, turns 96.



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