Perhaps one of the most recognizable characters in the world, Mickey has been the face of The Walt Disney Company for nearly 100 years. But very soon, Mickey Mouse's copyright will expire and some companies are already ready to take advantage of it!
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In less than ten years Steamboat Willie (1928), the first version of Mickey Mouse, will be 100 years old.
And in 2024, after its 95th anniversary, the edition will enter the public domain.
The truth is that Disney has already managed to change the legislation several times to maintain ownership of its company's most famous character.
However, now, The Walt Disney company has given no indication that it will attempt another move.
Everything indicates that a new wave of challenges is on the way.
Disney will have to use other arguments and resources to preserve the rights of its Big Boss, when it falls into everyone's hands, by law.
As some Disney fans may know, if copyright law is not amended by then to allow for an extension, it is plausible that a company could make its own merchandise using Mickey Mouse's image as long as he uses his original 1928 image. .
And after that, your 1929 appearances can be used in 2025, 1930 in 2026 and so on.
Other Companies May Use Mickey's Image
And that's exactly what the MSCHF is trying to do.
They plan to make the first Mickey Mouse collectible from an outside brand, dubbed The Famous Mouse Collectible in the meantime.
They can't actually produce or design the collection or use the official name until 2024, when their image will enter the public domain.
So, how to buy the collectible?
Well, for now, MSCHF is selling individual tokens for US$ 100 each, which will be redeemable when the product launches in a few years.
Each token has a unique code that can only be used once to claim your purchase.
For starters, they released 1,000 tokens, and ALL have sold out since then.
You might be wondering what Disney could do to prevent this from happening.
To answer that question, we have to revisit Mickey's copyright history.
Mickey's Copyright History
When it was created, copyright law allowed protection for a maximum of 56 years, but Disney lobbied to change that rule and managed to pass the Copyright Act of 1976.
With the implementation of this new law, works published after 1922 gained 75 years of protection.
But those 75 years expired in 2003, so once again Disney decided to extend the deadline.
They pressured Congress again, and the Copyright Term Extension Act 1998, called the Mickey Mouse Protection Act, was born.
That law is what extended copyright protection for 95 years, pushing the deadline to 2024.
If Disney wants to, they can try this strategy again before 2024 arrives.
But what will MSCHF do if Disney gets extended copyright? Well, for them, it's all part of the game.
In the FAQ section of their website, they point out that the core of MSCHF x Famous Mouse is the ambiguous/hypothetical state of the artwork.
If the date changes, MSCHF considers this to be part of the play as well. Either way, it's a nice marketing ploy, isn't it?
Before we finish, let's contextualize a little more about copyright laws.
Copyright Laws And The Mickey Mouse Public Domain
The first copyright law appeared in the United States in 1909.
It allowed the author to keep and benefit from his work for 56 years.
However, in 1984, Mickey Mouse was supposed to be in the public domain, but that didn't happen.
In the 70s, Disney was already big, with Disneyland, Disney World, Mickey Mouse Club and other content also on TV.
Success was not limited to audiovisual production alone.
This decade saw the company's first attempt to retain its Mickey Mouse rights.
In 1976, the United States Congress, acting on Disney's interventions, passed a new law that extended the copyright period for works that were not yet in the public domain from 56 to 75 years.
Therefore, Mickey Mouse Steamboat Willie will be protected until 2003.
As that deadline approaches, Disney's then-CEO, Michael Eisner, began visiting politicians' offices to talk about another extension of the work's copyright expiration date.
However, Disney had already prepared the way for this to happen, as since the early 1990s, Disney has donated money to political lobbying. Between 1992 and 1998, the company donated over US$ 4 million.
The project was introduced by producer, singer, actor and politician Sonny Bono (Salvatore Phillip Sonny Bono, Cher's ex-husband) and, after its approval, was signed on October 27, 1998 by President Bill Clinton, extending the ownership term. copyright for 95 years.
This is how the Steamboat Willie is protected until 2023 with legislation that became known as the Sonny Bono Act or Mickey Mouse Protection Act.
Did the Mickey Mouse Protection Act Benefit Others?
With this big jump from 56 to 95 years of copyright ownership, Disney was not the only beneficiary of these legislations.
Obviously, if it weren't for her, other companies could risk the onslaught to propose an extension of the expiration date of the domain of a work.
No doubt Disney had the strength to do this and it didn't want to risk seeing its most profitable character fall into the public domain.
By protecting Mickey, other companies could also continue to profit from their own characters.
To give you an idea of what we are talking about, if the copyright term of a work continued at 56 years, in addition to Mickey, some of the characters that would now belong to the public domain would be:
- Batman (1939)
- Superman (1938)
- Spider-Man (1962)
- Captain America (1940)
- Longlegs (1940)
- X-Men (1963)
- Tom and Jerry (1940)
- The Flintstones (1960)
- The Jetsons (1962)
- Woodpecker (1940)
- And more…
Basically, in the year 2022, all characters created before 1965 would already be in the public domain.
Lasting for 56 years, the companies' ownership of works prior to 1963 would end in 2019.
And what would the market be like today if the main characters of major studios were in the public domain?
Well, Batman could be used by anyone, starting in 1996.
Spider-Man, from 1962, which both Sony and Marvel are vying for the film rights, would at this point receive adaptations from any studio? as long as it doesn't go beyond the limits of the first version.
Let's just say there would be more flexibility in terms of creating content for these characters.
Obviously, the biggest productions would continue to come from the studios that released them, for more investment or credibility.
What changes for Disney in 2024
The reality is that the version of Mickey Mouse that will fall into the Public Domain is the one that is least on the shelves.
Mickey reappears in commemorative times, in fact, in the exhibitions of the 90 years of the character that we had in 2018 and 2019 and now with the 50 years of Walt Disney World.
Since nostalgia is a lucrative business, the character's 95th birthday celebration is just around the corner, in 2023.
It's its last anniversary before it passes into the public domain.
In the 100 years, which will take place in 2028, many things must be different.
And the question remains, what can Disney do?
As Ars Technica reported in 2018, the major Hollywood media conglomerate (the Motion Picture Association of America, the American Recording Industry Association, and the Authors Guild) are not interested in extending the copyright expiration date.
Times are different.
In the 1990s, while Disney was gaining influence on the political scene through lobbying to change legislation, there weren't as many groups, also lobbyists, on the other side against copyright extension.
The last example we have is related to the proposals for SOPA (Stop Online Piracy Law or Online Piracy Combat Law) and PIPA (IP Protection Law or Online Protection Against Theft of Creativity or Intellectual Property Law).
These two projects aimed to protect copyright, intellectual property and combat piracy.
However, the measures were extreme, even forcing search engines to exclude suspicious pages from the results or DNS servers to blacklist addresses, which was interpreted as censorship.
The posters, in 2012, against these 2 proposals, showed the negative side of this extreme fight against piracy, the strength of people and companies against the new legislation that proposes changes in copyright rules.
With no expectations of a new law, the brand appeal remains, if possible.
The trademark does not expire, that is, it does not expire as a copyright property.
Mickey Mouse trademarks will forever remain the domain of Disney.
We'll have to wait and see if the argument can be used to prevent Mickey Mouse from being copied in 2024 alleging trademark infringement.
According to previous filings, the US judiciary rejected trademark arguments to prevent the reproduction and modification of a work in the public domain.
The case took place in 2003, when a company called Dastar modified and republished parts of a documentary formerly owned by 20th Century Fox.
Disney undoubtedly has excellent lawyers looking at ways to control the parallel production of 1928 Mickey Mouse content. But whether they actually succeed remains to be seen.
We cannot predict what will happen in a few years.
I think the company's response will be to produce new Mickey attractions (animations, features, stories and collectibles), which will remain under the company's ownership and distribution power.
In fact, we already see this being done, right? Like the new Mickey cartoon and the new Mickey attraction at Disney's Hollywood Studios the Mickey & Minnie Runaway Railway.
Versions of Mickey that can be made Public
Steamboat Willie's 1928 Mickey is black and white, wears no gloves, and has a mischievous personality.
This is the version that enters the public domain from 2024.
Nothing more than that!
To put the gloves on their productions, creators must wait until 2025, when The Opry House version will also enter the public domain.
The colorful Mickey first appeared in 1935 at the band's concert, but at Mickey's Park the same year he appeared in his traditional attire, his gloves a yellowish rather than white color.
As early as the 1936 episode of Moving Day, the gloves were white and the shoes were no longer vibrant.
Modern Mickey, as we are used to, appeared in 1939.
In Mickey's Surprise Party, the character is more human, full-bodied and with better expression.
There is a noticeable difference in his eye, which goes from being just a black oval to the features of an eyeball as we can see by comparing the photo above with the photo below!
Cool huh? We will keep this publication updated with the latest news about the Copyright by Mickey Mouse.
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