Mickey Mouse Has Transitioned into the Public Domain as per Copyright Law

As of January 1, 2024, the iconic Disney character, beloved by generations worldwide, officially entered the public domain in accordance with US copyright law. Under this law, rights to characters expire 95 years after their publication (for works published or registered before 1978). This significant change signifies that the creation is no longer under intellectual property protection and is now accessible to the public, rather than being exclusively owned by a specific entity or individual.

Source: Gerstein, David (2015). Learn to Draw Mickey Mouse & Friends Through the Decades. Walter Foster Jr. p. 14. ISBN 978-1-60058-429-9, this picture cited from Wikipedia, “Steamboat Willie” https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Steamboat_Willie 

The specific version of Mickey Mouse in question originates from the classic 1928 short film “Steamboat Willie,” which prominently features early depictions of Mickey and Minnie Mouse. Following the expiration of Disney’s copyright for this film, particularly regarding certain cinematographic elements, these original portrayals of Mickey and Minnie are now available for public use. This newfound freedom allows artists and creators to reinterpret and incorporate these foundational depictions without requiring formal authorization or fees.

However, does this public domain status for Mickey Mouse extend to trademark law?

Unlike copyright laws, which have time-limited protections (e.g., 75 years in Indonesia), trademark protections can potentially last indefinitely. As long as the trademark holder continues to renew the necessary registrations, unauthorized use of the trademark, including the Mickey Mouse mark, by external parties is prohibited without formal consent or license.

Copyright and trademark laws serve different purposes. Copyright laws protect creative works from being copied without permission, while trademark laws protect a company’s brand and help consumers identify its products with other undertakings. Despite certain works entering the public domain, there are still regulatory constraints governing the use of trademark signs or logos.

In summary, while the public domain status affects certain versions of Mickey Mouse under copyright law, contemporary interpretations of the character remain protected by trademark law, ensuring the preservation of its unique identity in the commercial landscape.

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Fitri Astari Asril
Fitri Astari Asril
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