Mickey Mouse, Steamboat Willie will be public domain in 2024 | Entertainment/Life

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MICKEY will soon belong to you and me.

With several asterisks, caveats and caveats, Mickey Mouse, in his first form, will be the leader of the group of characters, films and books that will become public domain as 2024 approaches.

In a moment that many observers thought would never arrive, at least one version of the quintessential intellectual property and perhaps the most iconic character in American pop culture will be free of Disney copyrights upon its first release in cinema, the 1928 short film “Steamboat Willie”. “, featuring Mickey and Minnie Mouse, becomes available for public use.

“This is it. It's Mickey Mouse. It's exciting because it's sort of symbolic,” said Jennifer Jenkins, a law professor and director of Duke's Center for the Study of Public Domain, who writes a column annually on January 1st for “Public Domain Day”. “I feel a bit like the pipe of a steamboat, like I'm blowing smoke out. It's so exciting.”

U.S. law allows a copyright to be held for 95 years after Congress expanded it several times during Mickey's lifetime.

“It’s sometimes derisively called the Protect Mickey Mouse Act,” Jenkins said. “This is oversimplified because Disney was not alone in pushing for an extension of the mandate. A whole group of copyright owners whose works were soon to fall into the public domain who benefited greatly from the 20 years of additional protection.

“Since Mickey Mouse's first appearance in the 1928 short film Steamboat Willie, people have associated the character with authentic Disney stories, experiences and products,” a Disney spokesperson said in a statement to the Associated Press. “This will not change when the copyright on the Steamboat Willie film expires.”

Current artists and creators will be able to use Mickey, but with great limitations. Only the most mischievous, mischievous and mute boat captain in “Steamboat Willie” has gone public.

“More modern versions of Mickey will not be affected by the expiration of the Steamboat Willie copyright, and Mickey will continue to play a leading role as a global ambassador for the Walt Disney Company in our storytelling, attractions theme parks and related products,” Disney said. said.

However, not every characteristic or personality trait of a character is necessarily copyrightable, and the courts may be busy in the years to come determining what is in and what is out. of Disney property.

“We will of course continue to protect our rights to more modern versions of Mickey Mouse and other works that remain subject to copyright,” the company said.

Disney still securely and separately holds a trademark on Mickey as a corporate mascot and brand identifier, and the law prohibits using the character in a deceptive manner to deceive consumers into believing that a product came from the original creator . Anyone starting a film company or theme park won't be free to make mouse ears their logo.

Disney's statement said it “will strive to guard against consumer confusion caused by unauthorized uses of Mickey and our other iconic characters.”

“Steamboat Willie”, directed by Walt Disney and his partner Ub Iwerks and among the first cartoons to have sound synchronized with its visuals, was actually the third cartoon featuring Mickey and Minnie that the men made, but the first to go out. More menacing Mickey captaining a boat and making musical instruments with other animals.

In it, as well as in a clip used in the introduction to Disney animated films of recent years, Mickey whistles the 1910 tune “Steamboat Bill.” The song inspired the title of the Buster Keaton film “Steamboat Bill Jr”, released just months before “Steamboat Willie”, which in turn may have inspired the title of the Disney short film. The copyright was not renewed on Keaton's film and it has been in the public domain since 1956.

Another famous animal sidekick, Tigger, will join his friend Winnie the Pooh in the public domain as the book in which the bouncing tiger first appeared, “Home at Pooh Corner,” turns 96. Pooh, probably the most famous earlier character to become public property, gained this status two years ago when the original AA Milne film “Winnie the Pooh” entered the public domain, leading to truly new uses, including this year's horror film “Winnie the Pooh: Blood and Honey.”

Young Mickey could benefit from the same treatment.

“Now the public is going to set the terms,” said Cory Doctorow, an author and activist who advocates for broader public ownership of works.

January 1, 2024 has long been circled on the calendars of public domain watchers, but some say it serves to show how long it takes for American works to be released to the public, and many properties with less pedigree than Winnie or Minnie may disappear or be forgotten with their copyright troubles.

“The fact that there are works that are still recognizable and enduring after 95 years is frankly remarkable,” Doctorow said. “And it makes you think of everything we had to lose that might still be valuable.”

Other properties entering the American public domain are Charlie Chaplin's film “Circus,” Virginia Woolf's novel “Orlando” and Bertolt Brecht's musical “The Threepenny Opera.”

The current copyright term, passed in 1998, has brought the United States closer to the European Union, making it unlikely that Congress will extend it now. There are also now powerful companies, notably Amazon with its fanfiction publishing arm and Google with its books project, which in some cases defend the public domain.

“There's actually more resistance today than there was 20 years ago when the Mickey Mouse law was passed,” said Paul Heald, a professor at the University of Illinois School of Law, specializing in copyright and international intellectual property law.

In some cases, the United States goes well beyond Europe and retains copyrights in works already public in its home country, even though international agreements would allow the United States to adopt the shorter duration of other countries on works produced there.

George Orwell's books, for example, including “Animal Farm” and “1984,” both published in the 1940s, are now in the public domain in his native Britain.

“These works will not enter the public domain in the United States for 25 years,” Heald said. “It would literally cost Congress nothing to pass a law saying, 'We're now adopting the shorter-term rule,' which would throw a ton of works into the public domain here.”


This story has been corrected to reflect that Eugene O'Neill's play “Long Day's Journey Into Night” has not yet entered the public domain.

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