Mickey’s copyright adventure: Early Disney creation to be public property soon

There’s nothing soft and cuddly about how Disney protect the characters it brings to life. This is the company that forced a Florida day care center to remove an unauthorized Minnie Mouse mural. In 2006, Disney told a stonemason that engraving Winnie the Pooh on a child’s gravestone would infringe its copyright. The company pushed so hard to expand copyright protection in 1998 that the result was nicknamed Mickey Mouse Protection Act.
However, for the first time, Mickey he himself is set to enter the public domain. “Steamboat Willie,” the 1928 short film that introduced Mickey to the world, will lose copyright protection in the United States and several other countries late next year. The matter is more complicated than it seems, and those trying to take advantage of the soon-to-be-expiring “Steamboat Willie” copyright can easily fall into a legitimate mousetrap. Only one license is expiring. It includes the original version of Mickey as seen in “Steamboat Willie”. This speechless Mickey Mouse has a mouse-like nose, rudimentary eyes (no pupils) and a long tail.
Later versions of the character are still protected by copyright, including the sweeter, curvaceous Mickey in red shorts and white gloves most familiar to today’s audiences. They will enter the public domain at various times over the coming decades. The expired “Steamboat Willie” copyright meant that the black-and-white short could be shown without Disney’s permission and even resold by third parties.
Disney has no recourse to copyright, as long as the filmmaker adheres to the 1926 document and doesn’t use any elements that came out after that. This is where it gets complicated: Disney also keeps trademarks for its characters, and trademarks never expire as long as the companies continue to submit the right paperwork.
“Ever since Mickey Mouse first appeared in the 1928 short film ‘Steamboat Willie’, people have associated the character with authentic Disney stories, experiences and products,” Disney said in a statement. declare. “That won’t change when the rights to the movie ‘Steamboat Willie’ expire. “
The subject of Mickey Mouse and copyright has been in the public consciousness since the late 1990s, when Disney and other entertainment companies successfully lobbied Congress to expand copyright protections. In 2003, the Supreme Court ruled 7 to 2 to uphold what Congress had done.
Disney lawyers and lobbyists may have long determined that pressing Congress for one more extension would fail. That means the first version of Popeye, King Kong, Donald duckFlash Gordon, Porky Pig and Superman will enter the public domain at various points over the next decade.


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