Disney could lose Mickey Mouse as 95-year copyright expiry nears

Beloved character will enter public domain in 2024, nearly 95 years after he was created in 1928

New Mickey Mouse show and game

Disney is at risk of losing the exclusive rights to some of its most beloved characters, including Mickey Mouse, the cartoon figure known as the brand’s longtime mascot.

The animated mouse was originally created on 1 October 1928, and in 2024, nearly 95 years after his creation, he will enter the public domain.

According to US copyright law, 95 years is the length of time an anonymous or pseudo-anonymous body of artistic work receives protection.

However, there are limitations that will still apply, despite the copyright’s expiration.

“You can use the Mickey Mouse character as it was originally created to create your own Mickey Mouse stories or stories with this character,” Daniel Mayeda, the associate director of the Documentary Film Legal Clinic at UCLA School of Law, explained to The Guardian.

“But if you do so in a way that people will think of Disney – which is kind of likely because they have been investing in this character for so long – then in theory, Disney could say you violated my copyright.”

Mickey Mouse’s first appearance in the black and white cartoon Steamboat Willie became a pioneer in animation, through its use of synchronised sound – where music and sound effects corresponded with on-screen movements.

Mickey and Minnie Mouse

Since Mickey Mouse’s first appearance, he has certainly transformed over the years, but it’s that first 1928 iteration that will be stripped of its copyright, Mayeda explained.

Although, Disney will still maintain its copyright on any future variations in film or artwork until it officially reaches the 95-year mark.

Other Disney characters have already entered the public domain, including Winnie the Pooh, who has received a sinister makeover in the forthcoming picture Winnie the Pooh: Blood and Honey, directed by Rhys Waterfield.

Access unlimited streaming of movies and TV shows with Amazon Prime Video Sign up now for a 30-day free trial

Sign up

As particular aspects of the character that the public generally associates as part of the Disney brand will remain off-limits, Mayeda cautions that artists like Waterfield don’t cross the line when creating new works based on the old characters.

If the public is confused into thinking a particular work is affiliated with Disney, major legal consequences could follow.

Copyrights are time-limited. Trademarks are not,” Mayeda added.

“So Disney could have a trademark essentially in perpetuity, as long as they keep using various things as they’re trademarked, whether they’re words, phrases, characters or whatever.”

Register for free to continue reading

Registration is a free and easy way to support our truly independent journalism

By registering, you will also enjoy limited access to Premium articles, exclusive newsletters, commenting, and virtual events with our leading journalists

Please enter a valid email
Please enter a valid email
Must be at least 6 characters, include an upper and lower case character and a number
Must be at least 6 characters, include an upper and lower case character and a number
Must be at least 6 characters, include an upper and lower case character and a number
Please enter your first name
Special characters aren’t allowed
Please enter a name between 1 and 40 characters
Please enter your last name
Special characters aren’t allowed
Please enter a name between 1 and 40 characters
You must be over 18 years old to register
You must be over 18 years old to register
Opt-out-policy
You can opt-out at any time by signing in to your account to manage your preferences. Each email has a link to unsubscribe.

By clicking ‘Create my account’ you confirm that your data has been entered correctly and you have read and agree to our Terms of use, Cookie policy and Privacy notice.

This site is protected by reCAPTCHA and the Google Privacy policy and Terms of service apply.

Already have an account? sign in

By clicking ‘Register’ you confirm that your data has been entered correctly and you have read and agree to our Terms of use, Cookie policy and Privacy notice.

This site is protected by reCAPTCHA and the Google Privacy policy and Terms of service apply.

Register for free to continue reading

Registration is a free and easy way to support our truly independent journalism

By registering, you will also enjoy limited access to Premium articles, exclusive newsletters, commenting, and virtual events with our leading journalists

Already have an account? sign in

By clicking ‘Register’ you confirm that your data has been entered correctly and you have read and agree to our Terms of use, Cookie policy and Privacy notice.

This site is protected by reCAPTCHA and the Google Privacy policy and Terms of service apply.

Join our new commenting forum

Join thought-provoking conversations, follow other Independent readers and see their replies

Comments

Thank you for registering

Please refresh the page or navigate to another page on the site to be automatically logged inPlease refresh your browser to be logged in