[…] Mickey Mouse will enter the public domain in the year 2024, almost 95 years after his creation on 1 October 1928 – the length of time after which the copyright on an anonymous or pseudo-anonymous body of artistic work expires.
Daniel Mayeda is the associate director of the Documentary Film Legal Clinic at UCLA School of Law, as well as a longtime media and entertainment lawyer. He said the copyright expiration does not come without limitations.
“You can use the Mickey Mouse character as it was originally created to create your own Mickey Mouse stories or stories with this character. But if you do so in a way that people will think of Disney – which is kind of likely because they have been investing in this character for so long – then in theory, Disney could say you violated my trademark.”
According to the National Museum of American History: “Over the years, Mickey Mouse has gone through several transformations to his physical appearance and personality. In his early years, the impish and mischievous Mickey looked more rat-like, with a long pointy nose, black eyes, a smallish body with spindly legs and a long tail.”
While this first rat-like iteration of Mickey will be stripped of its copyright, Mayeda said Disney retains its copyright on any subsequent variations in other films or artwork until they reach the 95-year mark.
Honey-loving bear Winnie the Pooh from the Hundred-acre Woods and most of his animal friends entered public domain in January this year and some have wasted no time in capitalizing on the beloved characters.
Actor Ryan Reynolds made a playful nod to the now free-to-use Winnie the Pooh in a Mint Mobile commercial. In the advertisement, Reynolds reads a children’s book about ‘Winnie the Screwed,’ a bear with a costly phone bill.
[…] Pooh and his close pal Piglet are now the stars of Winnie the Pooh: Blood and Honey, a soon-to-be released horror film, written and directed by Rhys Waterfield, that sees the two go on a bloody rampage of killing after being abandoned by their old friend, Christopher Robin.
“Copyrights are time-limited,” Mayeda said. “Trademarks are not. So Disney could have a trademark essentially in perpetuity, as long as they keep using various things as they’re trademarked, whether they’re words, phrases, characters or whatever.”
Disney may still maintain trademarks on certain catchphrases or signature outfits worn by the characters, such as Pooh’s red shirt, which Waterfield intentionally avoided using in his movie.
The Walt Disney Company has a long history with US copyright law. Suzanne Wilson, once deputy general counsel for the Walt Disney Company for nearly a decade, now heads the US Copyright Office, underscoring the company’s relationship with the government.