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Copyright Expired on Mickey Mouse!

is this Copyright expiration a good or bad thing?

By Mohammed DarasiPublished 2 months ago 4 min read
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Copyright Expired on Mickey Mouse!
Photo by Roméo A. on Unsplash

Today I opened Chrome on my mobile to check something, but before I could go to the website I was planning to go to, an interesting news article appeared on the home page.

The article was about the expiring copyright protection for Disney on the original Mickey Mouse cartoon!

I honestly did not know that this was even possible. The law in America (versions of which echo in many other countries) apparently has an expiration date on copyright protection, which is 95 years from the original publishing date. The Mickey and Mini Mouse characters that appeared in the original animated film “Steamboat Willie” are now, as of the start of 2024, in the public domain.

Mickey and Mini Mouse are iconic characters for many. They’ve lived in our screens throughout childhood and their influence extends through generations. Because of how popular these characters are, it is understandable that people are thrilled about the expiration of copyright protection.

Not even a day passed since the protection ended, and a new PC game and a movie utilising these characters appeared… obviously, they were sitting restlessly waiting to hit the launch button.

Horror game “Infestation 88” and a movie called “Mickey’s Mouse Trap” popped up on the internet. Because of the end of copyright protection, such things can now exist, however weird.

Screenshot of "Infestation 88" game trailer

Screenshot of "Mickey's Mouse Trap" Trailer

Let’s put the weird Mickey Mouse horror to the side for the moment (and lock them in a faraway place so they can’t hurt you) and let us think about copyright law for a second. As writers and creators of content, this is an important bit of knowledge.

Generally, anything you create that is considered copyrightable material is automatically owned by you when it comes to copyright law. For example, you own any new and original work you published here on Vocal or anywhere.

Sadly, owning the copyright doesn’t mean no one else can use it. Anyone can copy your work and post it elsewhere (you can even see this warning on the support page in Vocal). This is an ever-existing hazard for anyone posting anything on the internet or releasing it to the public. It’s unavoidable.

For some types of media like music and video, it is possible to block their use in certain parts of the internet by registering them somewhere (don’t know where, so please don’t ask). I know this because there have been instances where I used a piece of music on my YouTube channel and a note saying something like “The user has allowed for this to be used in YouTube” appeared. This means that this is registered somewhere, and that register searched the internet (or at least YouTube) and recognised the music.

Even assuming we were baby geniuses who created something as soon as we came out of the womb, most of us would realistically not survive 95 years, so the copyright expiration wouldn’t affect us… but does that really put you at ease?

When someone passes away, do their belongings, like furniture and other valuables, not go to their next of kin? Their ownership doesn’t expire after a certain period they had them, so why should their art creations (whatever form they take) be any different?

Ignoring the ridiculous inheritance tax that makes you practically give half the inheritance to the government, wouldn’t you want to retain ownership of things left behind by a loved one? I’m sure you would have the same feelings about their writings and other creations, right?

The law seems odd to me.

I read an article about why copyright expiry exists, and it suggests that the reason could be to invigorate creativity in the public domain because, after expiry, anyone can use and build upon the work for free without needing permission. I understand that reasoning, but isn’t that kind of an oxymoron?

Creativity is about creating something new, while this expiry allows free use of established things (like characters) in new works. Of course, it could come up with out-of-the-box things (like the horror movie I mentioned), but the copyright itself didn’t prevent the creation of a horror movie, right? What this really means is that works coming out involving no longer copyrighted content will benefit from the existing recognition. Without Mickey Mouse, the horror movie and game would simply be another horror movie and game. They would have to stand up on their own merits without relying on Mickey Mouse.

What do you think about copyright expiry? Is it a benefit to society or an exploit for skipping the recognition-building step involved in any creation?

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About the Creator

Mohammed Darasi

I write fiction, poetry and occasional articles about interesting topics. I recently created a website (just because) which I will be posting my writing in (among other things). it would be great if you check it out. https://mindpit.co.uk/

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  • Mariann Carroll2 months ago

    Sometimes the copyright is longer than the life of the person who created it. Disney made a lot of money from Mickey and his legacy will live on. Now other people can make money freely from Mikey Mouse.

  • Very interesting article. I want to add a little bit extra to this expiring copyright. This means that only the version of Mickey Mouse from the 1928 film Steamboat Willie can be used without paying a license fee. Therefore that means later versions of Mickey Mouse are still copyrighted. Such as the version of Mickey Mouse in the 1940 film Fantasia is still copyrighted and cannot be used without paying a license fee. That version of Mickey Mouse will expire in 11 years. Other later versions of Mickey Mouse exist which will still be copyrighted for several more decades to come. In essence, only the early archaic version of Mickey Mouse can be used without a license. The more refined Mickey Mouse that the world has come to know is still copyrighted. Unexpired written works. A dead person to stay will still own the works. They just won't get royalties or fees with another person besides to use it within their own works. Now that does not mean that because a copyright on a written work is expired that doesn't mean that someone can take the entire body of work slap their name on it and call it theirs. That's not how expired copyright works.

  • Whoaaaa, I never knew about this copyright expiry thingy! This is so unsettling! Like you mentioned, that game and movie would have a larger audience because of Mickey Mouse. Heck, even I'm intrigued!

  • L.C. Schäfer2 months ago

    The weird horror isn't very out of the box. It was the first thing expected on seeing news of the expiry. It's Blood and Honey all over again. If copyright law didn't expire, we wouldn't even have most Disney films, since most of them rip off much older stories 😁 Is this not why they keep reworking films - to delay the copyright expiry? 🤔

  • Rene Peters2 months ago

    I don't know whether I feel it is good or bad but it was interesting to learn about. I didn't know it even expires.

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