Come 2024 and things might change vis-à-vis Disney and Mickey Mouse. According to US Copyright Laws, 95 years is the length of time an anonymous or pseudo-anonymous body of artistic work receives protection.
Mickey is Disney’s most well-known character, serving as brand’s mascot ever since his introduction in 1928′s Steamboat Willie. While the style and outfit of the character have changed a lot over the last 90-odd years, one thing has remained constant; he is Disney’s property.
Unless the copyright for the character of Mickey Mouse is extended, 2024 will be the final year that Disney would have a near-monopoly on the iconic character. Should the copyright protection expire, Mickey will enter the public domain, meaning people would freely be able to use the character in their films and books, provided it does not infringe Disney’s trademark stories.
Copyright and trademarks are different in that trademarks are not bound by time. This means that Disney will still have control over aspects of Mickey Mouse. If the company feels that the new user of the Mickey Mouse IP is stepping too close, it could lead to the courts.
What happens if something is in the public domain?
An example of this is the expired copyright on Winnie the Pooh. While aspects of the character, like his red shirt, remain trademarked, the character itself isn’t. Winnie is set to return to our screens in Winnie the Pooh: Blood and Honey, a gory re-invent of the bear.
While not using US copyright law, a similar situation happened with the character of Sherlock Holmes. A number of Arthur Conan Doyle’s stories remain under copyright in the US, due to their release date. However, the UK copyright law lasts for 70 years instead of 95 as is the case in the US. The detective has been in the public domain in the UK since the end of 1980.
What the ruling could end up meaning is the end of Mickey Mouse as we know him, and open the door for creators to take the character in bizarre and hopefully interesting directions.