Newspaper that inspires change. Breaking stories that shake the world. Be informed, Don't Settle for Fake News.

feat shape 1
feat shape 2
feat shape 3

Steamboat Willie now public domain, implications for Mickey Mouse

Early Disney movie featuring Mickey Mouse enters public domain in 2024, but only the character's first appearance, not later versions.

The first appearance of Mickey Mouse in the early Walt Disney movie 'Steamboat Willie' will enter the public domain on Jan. 1, 2024. The character in this movie is different from the Mickey we know today, being more rascally and rough, with roots in the blackface minstrel shows of the time. Despite this, Mickey Mouse remains under copyright, and new versions of the character continue to be copyrighted. Additionally, Mickey Mouse is trademarked, and trademark law provides an indefinite extension of protection for the character.

While people can creatively reuse only the Mickey Mouse from 'Steamboat Willie,' they cannot use the character from other movies or TV shows. This effective undermining of the public domain by allowing trademark law to effectively extend the life of a copyrighted work is a concern for copyright scholars.

The Walt Disney Company has a reputation for aggressive litigiousness over copyright and trademark-related lawsuits. However, in recent years, the company has shifted its focus to curbing online piracy. Despite this, the company may still use the law to assert its ownership if people infringe on the trademark or threaten to dilute it.

The copyright scholar Kembrew McLeod points out the irony that 'Steamboat Willie' was based on a popular film at the time, 'Steamboat Bill, Jr.' While copyright extensions may enrich corporations, they impoverish cultural conversations that rely on relevancy, innovation, and creativity to drive artistic and technological progress.

Share With Others

Comments on Steamboat Willie now public domain, implications for Mickey Mouse