In 2024, the Walt Disney Company could lose the exclusive exploitation rights of Mickey Mouse and the world without limits linked to the works and products that have the iconic character as the protagonist and that laid the foundations for the success of the prestigious film production house.
As some US media have pointed out, the tightening of US copyright law could “stop protecting” Disney’s exclusive rights to use Mickey Mouse as of January 1, 2024.
Once the copyright expires, Mickey will enter the public domain, which means anyone can freely use the character, or concepts related to him, in movies and books, as long as it doesn’t infringe on Disney’s trademark.
The date is linked to the first and historic appearance of the character in the animated short Steamship Willie, premiered on Broadway on November 18, 1928. Since then, Mickey Mouse has appeared in more than 130 films alongside other iconic animated characters from the entertainment empire.
However, this is not the first time that Disney has risked losing its flagship character and the inexhaustible source of income it represents. When Walt Disney created Mickey Mouse, American law protected copyright for 56 years, but before his deadline in 1976, Disney exerted all possible pressure to obtain extensions and save the rights of the famous character from him.
History repeated itself in 1998, when the company managed to postpone the protection law period until 95 years. All to save Mickey Mouse, of course, but also the characters related to him, on which studios, publishers and creators’ heirs risked losing their rights.
However, despite the expiration of copyright, there are limitations that may apply. Daniel Mayeda, associate director of the Documentary Film Legal Clinic of the University of Los Angeles Law Department, explained to Guardian that the public use of the figure of Mickey Mouse has limitations:
Two years from now you may be using Mickey Mouse as the subject of your own stories, but beware: if you do it in a way that makes people think of Disney, which is quite likely because they’ve invested in this character for so long, then, in theory, Disney could say that you infringed their copyright.
Therefore, the different versions of Mickey Mouse created over the years can be reused, but his first appearance, that of black and white in 1928, will remain the absolute domain of Disney.