Future Mickey Takers

2 Mins

Mickey Mouse is soon to go public.

Disney and Mickey Mouse are intrinsically linked since the character first appeared in the 1928 cartoon Steamboat Willie. But in 2024, nearly 95 years after he first appeared, he enters the public domain for the first time. What will that mean?

Under US copyright law, Disney won't be able to sue anyone that uses Mickey’s original image or stories as inspiration. The Mickey Mouse character can be adapted for new projects or original creative works.

In January this year, Winnie the Pooh entered the public domain, and he’s about to appear with Piglet in a new horror movie called Blood and Honey. 

So, will it be some big free-for-all with Mickey Mouse becoming a Marvel superhero or starring in an advert for large-eared headphones?

Not likely. Disney lose the copyright but not the trademark.

Disney have adapted Mickey’s appearance multiple times since he first appeared, and they still very much own rights to those looks. Any use of Mickey that could be mistaken as affiliated with Disney could lead to hefty legal consequences.

That Winnie the Pooh horror, for example, avoids using Pooh’s famous red jumper to steer clear of potential trademark violations and went to great lengths to ensure the character is linked to the 1926 version, not Disney’s.

But if you wanted to use the original version as inspiration for your 2024 book, song, advert or musical, you can.

You can bet that plenty of Disney lawyers will be keeping a very close eye though.

Written by Jason Connolly