In less than two years, 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?
1928 was a pivotal year for Hollywood since it was the date on which Walt Disney and Ub Iwerks created the famous Mickey Mouse. In fact, it is with 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 looked like two drops of water to the character we know today, with one detail ready: Mickey wore a hat.
The little film, which lasts less than 10 minutes, tells the daily life of Mickey and Pat who work on a cargo ship. They then embark on an eventful journey on a rough river with Minnie as the only passenger. The short film is available on Disney+.
Mickey soon in the public domain
If we’re talking about this short film, it’s because in less than two years, January 1, 2024, Willie’s Steamboat will fall into the public domain, and Mickey with him. Disney will then no longer be able to prevent other artists, studios or companies from using Mickey as they see fit under US copyright law. In the past, Disney has already lobbied the US administration to change this law, successfully.
So things can still change. And Disney will pull out all the stops to push further. In 1928, the copyright term law in the United States was 56 years old. In the 1970s, Disney and other studios lobbied for the law to be changed. The protection was then extended to 75 years. Then, in the 1990s, rebelote. Again, the law was changed to protect spanning 95 years. In fact, every time Disney or other big companies are about to lose the copyrights of certain works or certain characters, this debate comes up again.
Given the importance of Mickey, Disney shouldn’t give up until it wins. To see if the American administration is ready to give additional time to copyright protection. 95 years is already a very long time. Therefore, a work can only survive its author. And thus become the treasure of cinematic empires and mega-corporations. Is this really a good solution? We let you be the judge.
In any case, Mickey wouldn’t be the first Disney character to enter the public domain. Not long ago, Winnie the Pooh had the same fate and became royalty free. Which, for example, allowed Rhys Frake-Waterfield to use the image of the nice little bear for his horror film Winnie the Pooh: Blood and Honey. Like what, 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 for example the case of many superheroes like Batman (1939) and Superman (1932).