The version of the iconic character from “Steamboat Willie” will enter the public domain in 2024. But those trying to take advantage could end up in a legal mousetrap. From a report: There is nothing soft and cuddly about the way Disney protects the characters it brings to life. This is a company that once forced a Florida day care center to remove an unauthorized Minnie Mouse mural. In 2006, Disney told a stonemason that carving Winnie the Pooh into a child’s gravestone would violate its copyright. The company pushed so hard for an extension of copyright protections in 1998 that the result was derisively nicknamed the Mickey Mouse Protection Act. For the first time, however, one of Disney’s marquee characters — Mickey himself — is set to enter the public domain.
“Steamboat Willie,” the 1928 short film that introduced Mickey to the world, will lose copyright protection in the United States and a few other countries at the end of next year, prompting fans, copyright experts and potential Mickey grabbers to wonder: How is the notoriously litigious Disney going to respond? “I’m seeing in Reddit forums and on Twitter where people — creative types — are getting excited about the possibilities, that somehow it’s going to be open season on Mickey,” said Aaron J. Moss, a partner at Greenberg Glusker in Los Angeles who specializes in copyright and trademark law. “But that is a misunderstanding of what is happening with the copyright.” The matter is more complicated than it appears, and those who try to capitalize on the expiring “Steamboat Willie” copyright could easily end up in a legal mousetrap. “The question is where Disney tries to draw the line on enforcement,” Mr. Moss said, “and if courts get involved to draw that line judicially.”
Only one copyright is expiring. It covers the original version of Mickey Mouse as seen in “Steamboat Willie,” an eight-minute short with little plot. This nonspeaking Mickey has a rat-like nose, rudimentary eyes (no pupils) and a long tail. He can be naughty. In one “Steamboat Willie” scene, he torments a cat. In another, he uses a terrified goose as a trombone. Later versions of the character remain protected by copyrights, including the sweeter, rounder Mickey with red shorts and white gloves most familiar to audiences today. They will enter the public domain at different points over the coming decades. “Disney has regularly modernized the character, not necessarily as a program of copyright management, at least initially, but to keep up with the times,” said Jane C. Ginsburg, an authority on intellectual property law who teaches at Columbia University.
Source: Mickey’s Copyright Adventure: Early Disney Creation Will Soon Be Public Property – Slashdot
How it’s remotely possible that a company is capitalising on a thought someone had around 100 years ago is beyond me.