Disney started producing films for a new animated character, Oswald the Lucky Rabbit, in 1927. | Mickey Mouse was conceived the next year during a cross-country train ride, according to the “official” company history. Walt Disney had just been forced to give up the Oswald rights to his ruthless New York distributor, who had exercised copyright control over the character. | On the ride back home to Los Angeles, Disney conjured up a little mouse named Mortimer. His wife, Lillian, thought the name too pompous and suggested Mickey. —Disney’s Mickey Mouse Set to Turn 75 (Yahoo!/AP)
On Tuesday, the Mickey Mouse character turns 75, which means that, had it not been for some recent legal changes in the implementation of copyright, the Mickey Mouse character would have entered the public domain, and the corporation would lose the rights to market him (just as today anybody can use characters such as Huckleberry Finn or Ebeneezer Scrooge).
When I started my Ph.D., I chose the time span of 1920-1950, becuase I thought that during my academic career, one by one all of the literary works that were created during that period would start falling out of copyright, which would mean that I could publish my own online editions of these works. But thanks to Disney, that’s not going to happen — Disney’s laywers managed to get the copyright laws extended for another 25 years. A few works that I studied did fall out of copyright before Sonny Bono (formerly of Sonny and Cher, and also the U.S. House of representatives) did his groovy legalistic magic.