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Will Disney’s Copyright on Mickey Mouse Ever Expire?

Mickey Mouse in "Plane Crazy" the first film made with Mickey in it

Mickey Mouse in “Plane Crazy” the first film made with Mickey in it

Fifteen years ago Congress passed a 20 year extension of copyright in the USA. The Sonny Bono Copyright Extension Act was also known as the Mickey Mouse Copyright Extension as The Walt Disney Company’s desire to keep Mickey Mouse protected by copyright was a significant driving force behind the legislation.

With 5 years left before some of the earliest cartoons from Walt and his studio become public domain, Disney and its allies in the entertainment industry will have to decide if they’re going to pursue another extension.

So for your Sunday reading, I recommend this Washington Post article. It has a very good look at the history of the last extension and current issues regarding copyright in the USA, how it differs from Europe, and what it will mean to Disney’s iconic characters.

I’m not an intellectual property attorney, and I don’t play one on the internet, but I imagine that no matter what congress does this will be litigated in the courts. One of the big issues is even if Copyright expires, Disney has a registered Trademark on Mickey and the other characters. Does this prevent all use, all new use, or is it no barrier to using Mickey Mouse at all as long as it’s clearly stated this is not a ‘Disney’ production.

It’s an interesting time to be a Disney fan. I’m all for reducing copyright terms, but I’m also protective of Mickey Mouse and would hate to see him used in ways that would harm Walt’s legacy and the mouse’s character. That said, the characters William Shakespeare or Charles Dicks created have survived past their initial copyright (indeed much creative effort was made when there was no copyright protection at all). I’m sure Walt’s iconic creations will survive too.

What would you like to see happen regarding another copyright extension?

2 thoughts on “Will Disney’s Copyright on Mickey Mouse Ever Expire?”

  1. Anytime this topic comes up I always recommend “Free Culture: The Nature and Future of Creativity” by Lawrence Lessig. It is freely available here:

    In my opinion, the copyright laws as they stand now are doing irreparable damage to our collective ability to archive our modern culture for future use. Because it is in the hands of the few, much of our culture is lost due to its perceived lack of value and subsequently it is either poorly archived or not archived at all. And that is only one issue of many that stems from current copyright laws.

    In regards to Mickey Mouse, I do not mind if Disney retains creative control over this intellectual property. I know that it is a complicated issue, but in regards to my main concern noted above, Disney has done well to care for Mickey Mouse and its history due to its enormous value.

  2. I always find it really weird when Lawrence Lessig is mentioned somewhere on the net. I know him as “Larry” from the time I’ve spent with him and he’s such a cool guy that you would NEVER think he is as accomplished as he is, because he’s so down to earth. Thanks for telling me to check out his work.

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