What does it mean when something becomes public domain? Simply put, for something to be in the public domain basically means that it belongs to the public as a whole and is no longer subject to copyright. It applies to creative work after the intellectual property rights have expired or have been waived, giving the public the right to use the image without permission.
So what does this mean for Mickey Mouse?
Mickey Mouse debuted in 1928, and if you recently celebrated the iconic character’s birthday, you’ll know he just turned 94. Although the friendly mouse has aged gracefully, once he turns 95 in 2024, the earliest version of him (Steamboat Willie Mickey Mouse) will enter the public domain.
Although this sounds alarming at first, you may not realize that Mickey Mouse almost entered the public domain years ago. The Copyright Act of 1976 gave Mickey Mouse until 2003.
In 1998, the Copyright Term Extension Act (also known as the Sonny Bono Act and the Mickey Mouse Protection Act) extended its copyright. According to the Copyright Basics, the Mickey Mouse Protection act extended the copyright to either 70 years after the author passes away, 120 years after creation, or 95 years after publication, whichever comes earlier.
As Mickey Mouse prepares to celebrate his 95 birthday, the Walt Disney Company prepares to let Steamboat Willie Mickey Mouse enter the public domain. However, all iterations of the more modern, mousier-looking Mickey are still protected.
But the black-and-white Mickey Mouse from Steamboat Willie (1928) will soon become public domain unless the copyright is renewed. This gives the public the right to use his likeness and image for whatever they want.
However, there is always the possibility that Mickey Mouse, no matter how old, will still be a protected image due to his cultural significance and the Walt Disney Company’s cultural influence. To find out what will happen next, we will just have to wait and see!