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July 18, 2024

The Mouse is Free: Mickey Mouse Enters the Public Domain After 95 Years

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Jan 3, 2024

Mickey Mouse, one of the most iconic cartoon characters in history, has entered the public domain on January 1st, 2024, exactly 95 years after his first appearance in the 1928 animated short “Steamboat Willie”. This loss of copyright protection has quickly spawned a series of disturbing horror films, video games, and other content exploiting Mickey’s now unprotected image.

Shocking New Mickey Mouse Horror Media Appears Overnight

Just hours after Steamboat Willie entered the public domain, the first in a likely flood of unauthorized – and often perverse – Mickey Mouse media began appearing online. A gruesome slasher film trailer entitled “Mickey’s Mouse Trap” shows a costumed Mickey stalking and violently murdering young adults at a theme park, while the reveal trailer for a survival horror game called “Infestation 88: Origins” features a horde of zombie Mickeys chanting “Heil” amidst Nazi iconography.

The rapid emergence of these unsettling pieces of media poking fun at an iconic childhood figure has ignited controversy online. While creators are well within their legal rights to use the classic depiction of Mickey Mouse, many argue that assaulted the cultural legacy of Walt Disney’s cherished mascot. Disney representatives have refused public comment so far.

Why Did Mickey Mouse Enter Public Domain?

Mickey’s loss of copyright protection comes as the result of changes to US copyright law in 1976. Prior works were given a copyright term of 95 years from publication, meaning Steamboat Willie has just now passed into public ownership. Under current copyright law, corporate works are protected for 120 years from creation or 95 years from publication, whichever is shorter.

While Disney has lobbied extensively to extend protections further, their efforts failed to pass Congress. Similar iconic characters like Superman and Batman were published later and so will not enter the public domain for another 20 years.

What Can Be Done With Public Domain Mickey?

Now that the early Mickey Mouse is in the public domain, creators are free to reuse, remix, and reinvent Steamboat Willie and other early Mickey media without permission or payments to Disney. This includes incorporating Mickey into new films, games, merchandise, and other commercial works.

Non-commercial use was already allowed under fair use exemptions, but now even direct copies can be sold. While later incarnations of Mickey – like the contemporary cartoon version or Sorcerer Mickey – remain protected, the black-and-white mouse’s debut is now up for grabs.

Mickey Becomes an Overnight NFT Sensation

In addition to inspiring disturbing horror movies, classic Mickey Mouse has also spawned a series of non-fungible tokens (NFT) collecting frenzy since entering the public domain.

The “Steamboat Willie One” NFT by artist Clark Morehouse sold at auction for almost $50,000 just hours after being listed. Dozens of other Mickey NFTs have appeared for sale, with multi-thousand dollar listing prices. These digital art pieces take legal ownership over what are essentially just public domain Mickey Mouse scans, calling into question the value of NFTs based on aging works.

What’s Next for the Mickey Mouse Empire?

While the original 1928 Mickey is now up for grabs, Disney still owns the rights to all later versions of the iconic character, who serves as the corporate mascot. Disneyland, Disney’s Mickey cartoons and shows, and Mickey merchandise will be unaffected by the loss of early copyrights.

Disney plans to continue relying on Mickey Mouse as the face of its massive franchise, while exploring ways to protect its copyrights going forward through lobbying and subtle character redesigns. With over $65 billion earned by Mickey Mouse films, merchandise and theme parks over the years, he remains Disney’s golden goose – horror movies and NFTs notwithstanding.

Conclusion: An Icon Enters the Cultural Commons

Mickey Mouse has been a pop culture icon for nearly a century, but his earliest days are now part of our shared global heritage. While Disney still owns the overall Disney-fied version of Mickey, anyone can now legally remix, reimagine, or even outright copy that classic black-and-white mouse’s film debut without permission or payment.

This could lead to a creative explosion of unauthorized Mickey Mouse content of all kinds – terrifying horror along with more playful homages. But as the undisputed signature character of the world’s most powerful media empire, don’t expect the Mickey Mouse money-making machine to disappear from prominence anytime soon.

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AiBot scans breaking news and distills multiple news articles into a concise, easy-to-understand summary which reads just like a news story, saving users time while keeping them well-informed.

To err is human, but AI does it too. Whilst factual data is used in the production of these articles, the content is written entirely by AI. Double check any facts you intend to rely on with another source.

By AiBot

AiBot scans breaking news and distills multiple news articles into a concise, easy-to-understand summary which reads just like a news story, saving users time while keeping them well-informed.

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