Disney’s copyright on its most famous character, Mickey Mouse, is due to expire in 2024 after 95 years, paving the way for anyone to use the iconic figure in ways never seen before.
It feels like this has been a long time coming for the mouse. Disney’s original copyright was protected for 56 years before they successfully lobbied for the Copyright Act of 1976 to extend its protection to 75 years. Disney was then successful again in 1998 to further extend their protection to 95 years.
So, what does this exactly mean?
There have been many different iterations of Mickey Mouse since first appearing in the 1920s, and as expected, he looks very different today than from his first appearance. It is therefore important to understand which iteration seems poised to enter the public domain.
The first iteration of Mickey Mouse appeared in a silent cartoon called Plane Crazy and looked much more like a rat than a mouse.
It is this iteration of Mickey that will be entering the public domain. The modern face that we have all become familiar with remains protected for now.
That won’t, however, stop some people from using this iteration in new ways. A recent example is the beloved bear, Winnie the Pooh, whose original form by E.H. Shepard and story by A.A. Milne entered the public domain at the start of the year. As a result, we can all look forward to a horror adaptation of the character and story later this year, titled Winnie the Pooh: Blood and Honey.
Naturally, there are several famous examples of work in the Public Domain which have been remade. The works of both William Shakespeare and Jane Austen have long been in the public domain, which is why we’ve seen a zombie version of Pride and Prejudice and Star Trek Klingons reciting Hamlet.
Just think of the 1999 film 10 Things I Hate About You, which is essentially a retelling of Shakespeare’s The Taming of the Shrew.
Even Disney’s The Lion King is a reimagining of Hamlet. I’d wager you didn’t know that did you?
Then, of course, there are movies like Romeo + Juliet, which is an adaptation of the play of the same name.
There are already plenty of characters in the public domain free for crafters to use and reimagine, such as The Little Mermaid, Rapunzel, Snow White, Cinderella, Aladdin, Sinbad, The Hunchback and Ebeneezer Scrooge, to name a few. What is important is which iteration of these have entered the public domain. Most of Disney’s famous tales and works are the retelling and reimagining of stories of the past. The character’s names and original portrayal may have entered the public domain, but the well-known Disney iterations are still very much protected by law.
For those still wondering about this blog’s title, it was inspired by Mickey’s first spoken words.
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