Mickey Mouse Enters Public Domain

Disney no longer has exclusive copyright over the original Mickey Mouse cartoon. Happy New Year!

The copyright protection on Walt Disney’s 1928 animated short Steamboat Willie was initially due to expire in 1984, but Disney lobbied to have US copyright laws changed to cover the “life of the author plus 50 years”, which protected Willie until 2003. Then in 1998, Disney (along with several entertainment companies including Universal) successfully lobbied to have copyright protection extended again to the “life of the author plus 70 years” or 95 years after publication, whichever ends earlier. This extension to the copyright act protected Willie until the end of 2023 and was mockingly dubbed the Mickey Mouse Protection Act.

However, Mickey is also a trademark, which can be renewed indefinitely by Disney. This could be used by the company to maintain some control over use of the character.