Mickey Mouse Unleashed: A Century-Long Copyright Era Comes to an End

Mickey Mouse Unleashed: A Century-Long Copyright Era Comes to an End

After nearly a century, the first versions of Mickey Mouse have slipped free from Disney’s copyright leash, entering the public domain in the United States on January 1st, 2024. This is a significant victory for public domain supporters who have been waiting for this day for decades.

Duke Law School’s Center for the Study of the Public Domain has compiled a roundup of notable works shedding their copyright protections in the US on this momentous day. Alongside Mickey Mouse, sound recordings from 1923 and works from various media published in 1928 now join the public domain, offering a treasure trove for creative minds.

However, the complexities of copyright law still surround beloved characters like Mickey Mouse. The public domain version doesn’t encompass later design changes, maintaining exclusions such as Sorcerer’s Apprentice Mickey from Fantasia in 1940. Moreover, strict regulations prevent the creation of works falsely representing themselves as Disney productions or official merchandise, as Mickey Mouse remains a registered Disney trademark.

The public domain, meant to be the ultimate destination for any copyrighted work, suffered a 20-year freeze in the US due to the Sonny Bono Copyright Term Extension Act, commonly dubbed the “Mickey Mouse Protection Act.” This freeze made Mickey Mouse a symbol of extended copyright protections and Disney’s influence in intellectual property law.

Despite the legal complexities, this development opens up possibilities for new creative ventures inspired by the now-public domain Mickey Mouse and other works from the early 20th century. As the public domain welcomes these cultural treasures, it encourages a balance between short-term control for artists and long-term collaborative creativity—a balance integral to the evolution of art and culture.

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