January 2, 2024, 6:31 PM ·
Contrary to what you might have read on social media, Disney’s “Mickey Mouse” has not entered the public domain.
Yesterday, January 1, books, motion pictures, sheet music and other art created in 1928 officially entered the public domain in the United States. That means that those works are no longer protected by copyright and people are free to copy, republish and reproduce those works without having to pay their creators or owners.You can find a detailed list of what’s now free for all on Duke University’s Public Domain Day website. Among those works is Disney’s 1928 cartoon, “Steamboat Willie.”
Even though Steamboat Willie is now public domain, YouTube’s copyright bots continue to block copies of it to many users.That was the first cartoon short to premiere that starred Mickey and Minnie Mouse. But while Steamboat Willie and Mickey’s character in 1928’s “Plane Crazy” are now in the public domain, Disney has protected its Mickey Mouse character (including the name “Mickey Mouse”) by registering it as a trademark.
Unlike copyright, trademarks may be renewed forever, which will prohibit anyone from legally creating an unauthorized work featuring a character named Mickey Mouse so long as Disney keeps renewing that trademark and Disney’s lawyers keep enforcing it. But if you want to make a copy of the Steamboat Willie character and use it in your own creative work, have at it. It’s public domain now. (If you want some advice from a legal scholar on what you can and cannot do with Mickey, here’s another article from Duke.)
Universal Orlando did offer this clapback at Steamboat Willie’s loss of copyright.Which is why I remain disappointed that Universal Orlando has not yet added Steamboat Willie as a target character in its Villain-Con Minion Blast ride. The legal opportunity to have the Minions take aim at Steamboat Willie seems to me the fattest hanging curve over the plate that Universal ever has been pitched.C’mon Universal, give us this. And in three years, when Universal’s classic monster movies “Dracula” and “Frankenstein” enter public domain, I hope that everyone else in the industry finds ways to have some fun with them, too.* * *
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