In this photo illustration, a still from Disney's 'Steamboat Willie' that was the debut of Mickey Mouse is seen in a book on January 03, 2024 in Glendale, California. As of New Year's Day, the copyright for the earliest Mickey Mouse iteration 'Steamboat Willie' has expired, entering the public domain. The expiration of 'Steamboat Willie' does not affect more modern versions of the character. Image Credit: Mario Tama/Getty Images

Society USA11. January 2024

Mickey Mouse, Winnie-the-Pooh, and Peter Pan are now in the public domain!

Since January 1st, 2024, a number of copyrighted works from 1928 have entered the public domain in the United States, including the highly anticipated addition of Mickey Mouse, whose likeliness – and its protection – inspired a lengthy extension in copyright laws.

“The public domain has had some famous recent arrivals, but [Mickey Mouse] is the most anticipated entry yet,” explains Jennifer Jenkins, director of Duke University School of Law’s Center for the Study of the Public Domain. “Why? It is not simply that Mickey is a famous copyrighted character. So are Sherlock Holmes and Winnie-the-Pooh, and while they entered the public domain with some fanfare, it paled in comparison to this event.”

Steamboat Willie – one of the first cartoons with synchronized sound – introduced Mickey and Minnie Mouse to the world. Originally scheduled to enter the public domain in 1984, the movie benefited from extended protection, most recently in 1998 by a congressional act that established the current 95-year limit according to the “Mickey Mouse Protection Act,” whose name comes from the intense lobbying in favor of such an extension The Walt Disney Company fought hard for. Only the 1928 version of Mickey is public domain, meaning that it is free for anyone to use or build upon without permission. Disney has long relied on source material from the public domain. Indeed, Frozen and The Little Mermaid are from Hans Christian Andersen, Cinderella, Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs, Sleeping Beauty, and Tangled are from the Brothers Grimm, and Alice in Wonderland is from Lewis Carroll. Also part of the public domain are the following 1928 works of art: the books The House of Pooh Corner by A. A. Milne, Lady Chatterley’s Lover by D. H. Lawrence, Orlando: A Biography by Virginia Woolf, the play Peter Pan or The Boy Who Wouldn’t Grow Up by J. M. Barrie, the songs “Mack the Knife” from The Threepenny Opera and “Let’s Do It (Let’s Fall in Love)” by Cole Porter, Frank Silver and Irving Cohn’s sound recording “Yes! We Have No Bananas,” and the movies The Circus by Charlie Chaplin, The Man Who Laughs by Paul Leni, and the silent version of Plane Crazy in which Mickey and Minnie Mouse made their first appearance.

Smithsonian Magazine

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