Mickey Mouse: Steamboat Willie Version Enters Public Domain

Modern versions of Mickey Mouse remain under copyright but as of January 1, 2024, the Steamboat Willie version entered the public domain.

Mickey Mouse entering the public domain only applies to US law. Other countries have different copyright law protections. There’s a reason why people refer to US copyright law as the Mickey Mouse Protection Act. Ironically, no shortage of Disney films are based on stories that have entered the public domain. Even more ironically, the title of Steamboat Willie paid homage to Steamboat Bill, Jr., starring Buster Keaton.

The Walt Disney Company still owns a trademark on Mickey Mouse. This is what makes the mouse’s entrance into public domain trickier than most. Other versions–such as Fantasia and Mickey Mouse Clubhouse–are still under copyright. This means that the company will have a tighter lid on Walt Disney’s creation entering the public domain. Will they police activities after the character enters the public domain? I honestly do not know. I think a lot of it will do with either copyright or trademark law. They still own the trademark and will almost certainly fight to protect it.

Copyright expiration has been extended through the years because of Mickey. The fact that the character is just now entering the public domain speaks to Disney’s lobbying for the extension. They can only lobby so much and for so long. But still, newer versions remain under copyright.

Meanwhile, the character as a whole is still a Disney trademark. Trademark law is different from copyright law and trademarks can apply to brands, logos, or names. Anything infringing on the trademark is not allowed, not even with the character entering the public domain. Knowing Disney, I fully expect the company to enforce its trademark on whatever potential creativity comes out of the character entering the public domain. Don’t expect a Mickey Mouse slasher film any time soon especially if it could mislead people into thinking that The Walt Disney Company is behind it. If anything comes out of the character entering the public domain, I expect it to be more on the artwork side of things rather than moving pictures.

If you have more questions, check out the Duke Center for the Study of Public Domain. The center has made a handy guide regarding what one can and cannot do regarding copying, sharing, or building upon Mickey Mouse 1.0. They also go through the differences between copyright and trademark.

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Danielle Solzman

Danielle Solzman is native of Louisville, KY, and holds a BA in Public Relations from Northern Kentucky University and a MA in Media Communications from Webster University. She roots for her beloved Kentucky Wildcats, St. Louis Cardinals, Indianapolis Colts, and Boston Celtics. Living less than a mile away from Wrigley Field in Chicago, she is an active reader (sports/entertainment/history/biographies/select fiction) and involved with the Chicago improv scene. She also sees many movies and reviews them. She has previously written for Redbird Rants, Wildcat Blue Nation, and Hidden Remote/Flicksided. From April 2016 through May 2017, her film reviews can be found on Creators.

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