Mickey Mouse enters the public domain

Disney's 100th anniversary

The Walt Disney Company was founded on 16 October 1923, so it will celebrate its 100th anniversary later this year. Unfortunately for Disney, this also potentially means the loss of the copyright to the original Mickey Mouse. The black mouse would no longer belong exclusively to Disney and would be available for other projects.

Mickey, a mouse for the cat

Copyright protection only lasts for a limited duration. The exact term of protection varies by country, but as a general rule, copyright lasts for the life of the author plus an additional 70 years. After that, a creative work no longer enjoys copyright and is considered to be part of the so-called “public domain”. As a result, anyone should be able to use the creative work freely without needing authorization from the copyright owner.

Even though Walt Disney only passed away in 1966 (57 years ago), Mickey Mouse will already enter the public domain after the end of this year. This shorter term of protection results from different rules which applied back when Mickey Mouse was created. Specifically, Mickey Mouse will soon enter the public domain because Mickey will celebrate his 95th birthday, having first appeared in 1928.

Mickey Mouse 1928

To be clear, the specific version of Mickey which will enter the public domain is the 1928 version, featured in Disney’s short film “Steamboat Willie” (made freely available by Disney here). Later iterations of Mickey won’t enter the public domain just yet.

Modelregistratie Mickey Mouse
Design registration Mickey Mouse

Mickey Mouse Protection Act

In fact, Mickey Mouse should have already entered the public domain in 1998. But just a few weeks before works from the 1920s were about to become part of the public domain, the highly controversial Copyright Term Extension Act was passed by the US Congress, extending the term of protection (again). This controversial bill is known as the Copyright Term Extension Act, which is sometimes also called the Mickey Mouse Protection Act due to the heavy lobbying done by Disney to get the legal text to be enforced or to enjoy an exception.

After horror-Pooh, horror-Mickey?

It will be interesting to see how people will use the Mickey Mouse character now that Mickey will become part of the public domain. Fans of scary movies may also wish to keep an eye on the upcoming  horror movie “Winne the Pooh: Blood and Honey”, the creation of which is only possible because Winnie the Pooh entered the public domain in 2022.