Original Mickey Mouse Character Enters Public Domain in 2024

As a grad student in the 1990s, I chose to focus my dissertation on the years 1920-1950, on the theory that works published during that time period would fall out of copyright during the prime of my academic career. I imagined that one of my ongoing scholarly projects would be to publish free, annotated editions of those works for people to access on this new fangled-thing called a point-and-click graphical web browser.

Then Disney’s lawyers lobbied for a 20-year extension to all copyright protection in the US, which meant that during those early years of my academic career, almost no American literary works entered the common domain.

It seems so much fairer to guarantee copyright protection automatically for a fixed period like maybe 20 years, then make it relatively easy for a legitimate copyright owner to request an automatic 20-year extension. If after 40 years someone the caliber of Stephen King still sees money in a 1980s novel like Christine, or Tom Clancy wants to protect a 40-year-old novel like The Hunt for Red October, then let them pay a modest fee for another 20 years, a heftier corporate-sized fee for yet another 20 years, and a huge, Disney-sized fees for the small handful of really valuable properties that are still making huge bucks after 60 years.

The idea would be to make it easy for the average writer or artist to profit fairly from their intellectual property during their lifetime, through a system (supported by the big fees from the super-franchises) that makes it easy for average people to fairly license the works of mid-listers. I’m thinking of a low-budget indie movie set in the 2010s that might use viral clips that were current back then, like the “double rainbow” guy, the “hide yo kids, hide you wive, hide yo husband” guy, or teen Rebecca Black singing “Fridays,” or a media historian who wants to assign a playlist of classic videogames. 

As a former department chair once said to me, as a kind way of saying “no” to a request: “It’s important to have dreams.”

In a moment many close observers thought might never come, at least one version of the quintessential piece of intellectual property and perhaps the most iconic character in American pop culture will be free from Disney’s copyright as his first screen release, the 1928 short Steamboat Willie, featuring both Mickey and Minnie Mouse, becomes available for public use.


U.S. law allows a copyright to be held for 95 years after Congress expanded it several times during Mickey’s life.

Source: Original Mickey Mouse Character Enters Public Domain in 2024

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