Animation History
December 26, 2023 posted by Sean Dudley

“Steamboat Willie” and the Importance of the Public Domain

In 1978 Disney publicly celebrated Mickey Mouse’s 50th birthday with much fanfare, but they also had a less show reason to celebrate. As Mickey turned half a century old, the 1976 Copyright Act went into effect. This Act was the first major revision to the American copyright system in nearly 70 years and the first to be passed since Mickey Mouse’s debut in Steamboat Willie in 1928. Part of the Act’s provisions extended the length of copyright term for works already under copyright at that point in time, from 56 years to 75 years. This included Steamboat Willie and all subsequent Mickey Mouse cartoons.

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Then in 1998 Disney once again held a celebration as the Copyright Term Extension Act was passed, further extending copyright terms for all by another 20 years, including for the 70 year old Mickey. And while this time they hoped for a more private celebration it did not come as the act was commonly called The Mickey Mouse Protection Act by its critics. This meant that no published works would enter the American public domain until 2019, and Mickey Mouse was further protected until 2024.

For those who aren’t copyright nerds like me, copyright is the exclusive, time-limited right to reproduce, distribute, adapt, or otherwise use intellectual property for a fixed period of time. Following the 1998 act, copyright lasts for 95 years from publication for works for corporate works, like Mickey Mouse and Steamboat Willie. For works where individual authors hold the rights, protections persist for the life of the author and 70 years after their death. Since copyright expires at the end of a calendar year, published works from 1928 will enter the American public domain on January 1, 2024.

And while 2024 might not be a cause for celebration in Disney’s eyes, it is one for the rest of us. From 1998-2024 only seven years worth of published works have entered the American public domain. During that time, Mickey was set to enter in 2004 before any term extensions. During this extra 20 years of term extension, Disney has been able to effectively write and control their own version of the history of animation in nearly every regard. They were able to launch Mickey into icon status with no creative input or iterations from the public for 95 years, cementing him, and Disney itself, as the center and authority of modern animation. However, as the public domain has reopened over the last few years there are more opportunities for this narrative Disney has written to change.

Many contemporary works of the 1920s now have a chance for recirculation, reevaluation, and escape from the shadow of Steamboat Willie as they are no longer beholden to rights holders who were restrictive over them, or in some cases were impossible to identify. These other animated films help to explain the context of where animation was as a medium, an artform, and a business during the 1920s in the lead up to Steamboat Willie. Through the new access granted through the public domain we can understand a richer and more full history than ever before. Beautiful restorative work is making the works fresh and accessible for modern generations to view and allowing them to make connections to not only the contemporary works of the time, but also to the present. We can see one such connection in 1926’s Mutt and Jeff Playing with Fire where the tall and wiry Mutt fights a fire spirit, a character design that parallels Disney’s own Elemental, which features personified elements such as fire. While Disney might not have been the first to do personified fire they are definitely drawing upon a rich and deep history.

1926’s Mutt and Jeff in “Playing with Fire” (left) and Pixar’s “Elemental” (right)

This connection of drawing upon history is no stranger to Disney as they had been doing so since the start. In 1922, Walt Disney released Little Red Riding Hood through his Laugh-O-Gram Studios, the precursor to the modern Walt Disney Studios. Right from the start, Disney was pulling from the public domain, an ironic measure considering their support of copyright term extension. So it is fitting to finally see their totemic icon enter the public domain and become part of that history as well.

Mickey is a symbol for many things, for childhood, for extended copyright terms and the harm it can cause, but also for hope of what can and will be. It might be sad to think about all the time lost over 40 years of extension, but it is a wonderful thing to be in the present as well. As Steamboat Willie and Mickey join the public domain it will spark new creative expressions and critical evaluations of the character and the moment he inhabited. While these expressions might be limited at first, the adaptations are limited only to depictions of Mickey in Steamboat Willie and his other shorts from 1928, they will grow each year and more and more Mickey shorts enter the public domain. And with each short and new year it is an opportunity to be excited about what’s next.

Over the next decade, works from the 1930s will begin to enter the public domain including iconic characters like Bugs Bunny and Daffy Duck. And while their iconic status has been cemented already, it will be interesting and informing to see lesser known or circulated works from the decade like Rainbow Parade, Ub Iwerks’ individual cartoons, and many works by Ted Esbaugh become public domain.

Each time a work enters the public domain, it has a new potential for a second life, for restored versions that we can all appreciate as animation fans, and for historians to have a better understanding of the moment when these were created and how they connect to our present. And while I for one am super excited to see what new half lives, appreciations, and discoveries and histories come about, right now I’m looking forward to watching Steamboat Willie on its Wikipedia page over and over and over. And maybe once more.

Steamboat Willie and the Importance of the Public Domain by Sean Dudley is marked with CC0 1.0

A Footnote On Trademarks

Trademarks cover words, logos, images, and other brand identifiers for the source of a product, to minimize consumer confusion when engaging with products. The US Supreme Court has said that trademarks should not be used to stymie what copyright expiration allows. This includes using public domain materials, including characters or stories, in new creative works. The Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals explained that when a work enters the public domain “[w]e all own it now” and trademark law “cannot be used to circumvent copyright law.”

However, trademarks can prevent the usage of public domain materials if they mislead consumers about the origin or sponsorship of a new product. This would apply to the unauthorized use of Mickey on merchandise similar to what Disney sells, but might also extend to a new creative work that uses Steamboat Willie in a way that suggests it is a Disney production. This might happen if Mickey appears as a logo at the beginning of a cartoon, for example. One way to ensure that the audience is not confused is to make the actual source of the work clear and to add a prominent disclaimer indicating that this work was not produced, endorsed, licensed, or approved by Disney.


  • Mickey Mouse entering Public Domain for Mickey Mouse is lawyer’s gobbledegook for stealing.

    I have no problem with Public Domain for Beethoven’s music. or to use your example Red Riding Hood, because the original author(s) is deceased.- the only people to potentially capitalise on works after the creator’s demise are money grabbing relatives and children’s children who contributed nothing to the original creation – and so deserve nothing.

    However the company which created Mickey Mouse is still very much alive!

    Mickey Mouse has always been their mascot/corporate symbol, and is a major tool in their company operations and creations.
    He continues to be actively used in animation, a key figure of the parks, and many other facets of the organization.

    And for someone to take it away from them – even in part – is totally wrong.

    It’s like someone taking over a room of your house – because you’ve turned 95 and we can now have it.

    “Beautiful restorative work” is a rosy picture if all you view are the likes of Steve Stanchfield and Flicker Alley.

    The majority of public domain’s fate is either on DVD labels, Youtube channels etc who put out the same worse for wear prints (either copied from TV or filmed off 16mm prints) because it costs them nothing, and is a cheap way to make money.

    And there is less incentive for studios to restore Public Domain titles (eg “Last Time I Saw Paris” Blu Ray released by Warner Archives this year) because immediately it’s out, people can immediately make money by legally selling a cheaper copy.

    John Oliver’s “Mickey Mouse” on one of his last shows for the year hints aggressively at what’s to come.

    As Mark Evanier said recently “We’ll have a lot of really crappy Mickey Mouse porn comics and videos”

    • Yeah, that’s my biggest concern with that and I worried about the Cartoon Research Facebook Group getting flooded with posts on that stuff.

      Plus, I sometimes feel like Oliver sometimes goes overboard on his points in sake for jokes.

    • None of the current employees of the Disney corporation had any involvement in the making of the original black and white Mickey Mouse shorts. The idea that we should treat Steamboat Willie differently than any other creative work that was made 95 years ago just because the company is still around is ludicrous. All the stuff that Mickey subsequently appeared in that’s not 95 years old is going to remain under copyright for now. Besides, it’s not as if Disney doesn’t know how to make money off of public domain characters.

    • Oh come on.
      Anyone working at Disney corp. now had just as much to do with the creation of Steamboat Willie as you or I. EVeryone involved in Mickey’s creation is dead.
      Disney corp is not sacred and certainly not special as corporations are individuals under the law. They’ve milked it for 40 years longer than they should have under a special exceptional extension made with them in mind. Many other works have entered the PD, it’s their turn now.
      There may be a lot of garbage produced, derived from 1928 Mickey, I predict that will get old fast.
      I look forward to the the imaginative ways artists might expand on the characters.

    • Disney has a long history of appropriating the work of others. Think for example of a book like Pinocchio, published just 55 years before the 1940 film and which was somehow absorbed by the Disney version (which in any case is a milestone of animation). And speaking of Pinocchio, and regarding the idea that the current company has some point of contact with the one that created those classics, it is enough to compare the two Disney versions of the film.

    • If Disney is to survive they need to stop regurgitating the same old tired things over and over again. The corporation of Disney has for too long lobbied to retain control of their properties long after the death of their creator. This they did so they can continue to rest on their laurels and rake in easy money on past glories and bad rehashes. The corporation of Disney is now so out of touch that the many of their main customer base of families with kids can’t afford to go to the parks anymore. Instead, grown kids adults are pricing them out to bathe in the nostalgia. When they die out, there may be no more Disney as we think of it today. They may have gone the way of Sears, K-mart, malls and Drive-ins.

      • Gee whiz, come on and give us some people a break. It’s been a stressful year for all of us. We all have rights to worry about different things, even if they seem insignificant and not necessary to others.

    • Pathetic crooning for a mega corporation that’s gotten undeserved special treatment for the last 50 years. This is the same company that sues bakeries for putting Disney princesses on birthday cakes. Every other other country in the entire word disagrees with you and the US’ corporate entitelement. No one else has these insanely long public Domain laws for good reason.

      • And being cynical/heartless is a better alternative because….?

    • I do believe you have a point, in our hearts and minds, Mickey will always be Disney. But you make a mistake of defending “The Walt Disney Company”, a company I dare say Walt would be very ashamed of (a mixture of being proud too).

      But back in the 80’s, Filmation was set to make new movies of Pinocchio, Alice and Wonderland and other public domain stories. But Disney, with no legal claim sued them. When all was said and done, Filmation won- BUT they spent so much time and money in court, they no longer had the investor funds to make the movies (per Lou Scheimer’s book). So Disney has spent decades ruining other studios profits. And it’s really hard to feel sorry for them- when again, they are on the wrong side of the law.

  • This cuts both ways. There’s no question, for example, that the Terrytoons would be more accessible, and viewable in better condition, if they were in the public domain instead of owned by copyright holders who have absolutely no regard for the films.
    However, when a work enters the public domain it also has the potential to be cheapened and debased by being chopped up for advertisements, Internet memes, and God knows what else. I think there’s a very strong chance of that happening to “Steamboat Willie” in the very near future.

    My mother was five years old when “Steamboat Willie” came out. She grew up with Mickey Mouse, and her book of Mickey Mouse Illustrated Movie Stories was a cherished possession that she held onto through the half dozen moves her family made during her childhood. When I watched those old cartoons on television with her in the ’60s and ’70s, I could tell how special they were; and when they were released on DVD as part of the Walt Disney Treasures series, that’s exactly how they were treated — as treasures. Sure, it will be nice to watch “Steamboat Willie” on its Wikipedia page whenever we want to, but I’d give anything to be a five-year-old seeing it on the big screen for the first time.

    • Hi Paul!
      I understand the idea of the film losing some idea of prestige, but it does cut both ways as you say. There is a lot more ability for the film to be greatly appreciated and shared with the next generation now that it is not under complete control of Disney. You stated that seeing it as a five year old on the big screen would be amazing. My question is, when was the last time that you remember Steamboat Willie was playing in theatres? Without the copyright, any theatre could show the film without permission for Disney. This means that it would actually make it more possible for a five year old to see it on the big screen for the first time.

      • After years of reading about Steamboat Willie, I finally saw it in 1983 – a 35mm projected print. I was glad that this, and not some TV showing, was my introduction to the landmark film.
        After having Oswald the Lucky Rabbit snatched from him, it’s a little hard to fault Walt for wanting to keep a tight grip on his creations.

        • Walt hasn’t had any involvement in any of the copyright-extension lobbying of the last six decades, unless you subscribe to the “They Saved Walt’s Brain” fantasy! It’s true that he likely wouldn’t have relished the prospect of losing control of the company’s assets, but to suggest that the company’s current stewards are just carrying out Walt’s desires is sentimental nonsense.

  • What I like to know more is what is with the situation with “It’s a Wonderful Life” which was supposedly P.D. until it became a Christmas staple and Republic (which is part of Paramount) argued to the Supreme Court it still owns the rights. I think I get the basics of it, but I want to get a clearer idea of it.

    • The film “It’s A Wonderful Life” is in the public domain due to a lack of renewal by 28 years after its publication in 1946. However, it is a derivative work of a short story, entitled “The Greatest Gift” that was published in 1944. In a 1990 Supreme Court case, entitled “Stewart v. Abend”, the court ruled that copyright holders of original works had rights over the derivative works as long as the original copyright persisted. To this end, “It’s A Wonderful Life” has been restricted in usage due to this ruling and it will continue to be further restricted until 2040 when the original short story enters the public domain. Of course I am not a lawyer or legal scholar, but this is my understanding of as to why the film is still restricted.

    • Basically the successors of the company that owned it before it went into public domain found a couple loopholes. They bought the rights to the story that the film was based on, then successfully argued that it was a derivative work based on the story they owned. They also bought the rights to the soundtrack. So most of the film is still technically in the public domain, just not all of it. Incidentally, in the Rifftrax version they include the majority of the original film, but remove the 20 minute Pottersville sequence. (Apparently this is the section most closely associated with the original story.) The riffers humorously imply that Clarance simply gave George the money. Anyway, this video does a pretty great deep dive into it.

  • It should be noted that STEAMBOAT WILLIE has been public domain this entire time, because Disney did not copyright it within due time. This has of course, been kept under the rug for the most part

    • Hello!
      This is a disputed statement. It is quite possible that Disney did not comply with the formalities of the time, but the short received a renewal in 1955 and has always been treated as if it was under copyright. Additionally, with its entrance into the public domain in a few days it is kind of a moot claim. Though I do understand the potential frustration with whether or not the short ever had a valid copyright.

  • I agree with so much that you’ve said here. I like the fact that some collectors and video distributors out there can allow for the inclusion of “Steamboat Willie“. Some of them might even do a better job than the Disney company itself, because they’ve collected films over the years and kept them in good condition. I say that about any studios product. Look how many Warner Bros. cartoons have already fallen into the public domain, and the company has not gone to the incredible task of restoring it to what it originally was seen like in theaters around the time of its creation.

    I always hope that private collectors will finally come out and reveal that they have had for years And original nitrate copy of a classic cartoon, whose title sequence or end sequence, we have never seen!

    None of my comments here are meant to be swipes at the major studios. They are already overloaded with history that they don’t know quite how to deal with at this point. Therefore, collectors are always an asset for them. I wish the studios would realize this, and allow for smaller video companies to take over their history and realize it the way they may not know exactly how to do so. My dislike of the public domain is that anyone can use the property. Anyone could release gnarled and horrible and spicy prints of these cartoons without any regard to whether it is really worthwhile. I can’t tell you how many cassettes I’ve bought, hoping to find the ultimate edition of a cartoon in the public domain, only to find that the very next print, I see, is an even worse shape than the one I previously wanted to discard!

    I think those who have put in their time and effort to really find the absolute original master of a film, or reassemble, one for new generations to enjoy. So, overall, I love the public domain as long as they honor the films, they are recycling.

  • Sooner or later all ships come to port. Now that people other than the copyright holder can reproduce these works perhaps Disney and others will be moved to produce definitive versions. Any work they do of course falls under current copyright. As Walt Himself said when he told his artists to use public domain material and they said, “Everyone has done those, ” “We will do it better.” People will buy the Disney brand over any other version.

  • Disney’s recent failed attempt to extend copyright protections is a mixed blessing. While I am all in favor of making films more readily accessible for fans who appreciate them, it does in a way cheapen their value. (E.g. the various pd cartoons that flooded those unofficial compilation tapes in poor quality)

    A while ago, I had a conversation with a friend who runs a comic book store on this matter. He said he’s in favor of Disney retaining their copyright on Mickey Mouse for the reason that he doesn’t want to see a beloved icon from his childhood on an alcohol label. And I concur with that reasoning.

    I too wonder what that means for the future of official home video/streaming releases. Will we see less releases? Will the studios still retain ownership of the camera negatives/prints?

    • I feel that is a valld point, but the greater point of copyright law is to encourage creators to keep creating. You don’t get to keep it forever, so you better make something new (keeping growing culture and society). And while yes, Disney does make knew stuff, they also spend a lot (I mean a lot!) of time just repacking the same thing. And often they do it merely to retain copyright and trademarks on things.

  • I’m sure there are villainous cretins already working on colorizing and creating fake 3D versions of poor Willie, or turning it into a horror film franchise. I have nothing against the public domain but I have something against the public, apparently.

  • I fear when all these become public domain. I guess Blood and Honey was only the beginning.

  • “it will be interesting and informing to see lesser known or circulated works from the decade like Rainbow Parade, Ub Iwerks’ individual cartoons, and many works by Ted Esbaugh become public domain. “

    Correct me if I’m wrong, but isn’t the entire Van Beuren library already in public domain at this point? Same with Ted Esbaugh’s work?

    At any rate, one of the things I look forward to with the Disney shorts falling into public domain is the potential of Thunderbean or elsewhere giving these cartoons the proper attention that they deserve. Disney has only tapped into a quarter of their shorts library on their streaming service, and a sizeable portion of them clumsily have the wrong RKO title cards plastered (even their recent additions still have the wrong end cards). It’s gotten to a point where I can trust the creator of the fake Aldo Boomer wiki page more to do a better job recreating the titles properly.

    • Hi! I haven’t done the research to know if all of Eshbaugh’s, or the Van Beuren library are public domain. I’m aware that a lot of them are, but I can’t speak authoritatively on that. The benefit of public domain continuing to expand will be the guarantee that those works are public domain.

      And I appreciate your view on how other studios will be able to restore or release these works. I’m personally looking forward to a wider availability of versions of public domain shorts. I’d love to see someone’s scan of a 16mm or 35mm element of Steamboat Willie that Disney wouldn’t have any interest in releasing. And I’m really interested in seeing what happens with circulation of their early 30s output over the rest of the decade.

      My final note is that I try to use more positive language around works becoming public domain. To say something “fell” into the public domain suggests that it’s not meant to be there. But every creative expression will ultimately become public domain and they’re meant to do so. I use “enter” instead since works are joining a vast history of creative human expression.

      • Very fair point at the end, especially since Steamboat Willie entering the public domain was long overdue as is.

  • “The Mad Doctor” has been in public domain for some time, at least since or before the VHS era. I have a “bootleg” Mickey Mouse VHS that contains “The Mad Doctor” and the short version of “Minnie’s Yoo Hoo”. This came out quite a few years ago and was tastefully handled, although the Mickey on the cover was slightly off-model.

    But even WITH copyright protection, Mickey Mouse was still subject to serious rip-offs by other studios, especially at the peak of his popularity in the early 30’s. I doubt that even the Disney lawyers could have caught and squelched everything that was produced in imitation of the world’s favorite mouse. Mickey survived that era, and the handful of MM cartoons that are already public domain have survived as well. But, as has been pointed out in the comments above, Disney is still a current organization and heir to the original character, so it is to be hoped that the spirit of Mickey will continue, with or without the protection of copyright.

  • Peter Pan becomes public domain in 2024 as well. I wonder how many Boomers will still be around to see it happen to “Catcher in the Rye,” which people have wanted to get their hands on to dramatize for decades.

  • The main benefit to “Steamboat Willie” becoming public domain is that the rights to the music and literature of 1927 and 1928 will now at last become public domain as well. Greedy companies like Bourne, Inc. will no longer be able to make filmmakers and other users pay 5000 dollars for a limited license to use a musical composition from 1927. We should all look forward to creators being able to use popular music from this era to provide sound for new projects. At last the Mouse won’t be the guardian at the gates of the popular works of the 1920s!

    • I agree, Mark! I’m very excited about all of the non-Mickey works. And you can read more about that over on Duke Law’s Public Domain Day page.

  • Some years ago, I was under the impression that THE MAD DOCTOR was in “The Public Domain” and that this also was true of the 1932 comic strips of Floyd Gottfredson that were the inspiration to the cartoon short. The book publisher was dealthy afraind of the question regarding Mickey Mouse’s “trademark,” and as a result, the “frame grabs” I had a friend make for me of scenes from THE MAD DOCTOR and segments of the ’32 comic strip that I wanted to compare and contrast with – could NOT be used! So, only my text was used for the science-fiction film anthology, SCIENCE FICTION AMERICA. I don’t think the “question” about “trademarked” images has changed, even with STEAMBOAT WILLIE becoming “P.D.”! We’ll see!

    The “negative side” of films becoming “Public Domain” is that quite often, the fomer legal owner of the property doesn’t “give a hoot” about the material – since it’s no longer profitable – and will not pay the cost of restoration of this particular film, or whatever it is, because it will no longer pay a “profit.” Quite often, good-hearted people will try to restore a film or whatever on their own, go to the former copyright owner or his or her estate and get nowhere. Speaking of IT’S A WONDERFUL LIFE, does anybody remember all the ghastly, chopped up and edited prints – often with poor sound – that showed up on TV or VHS versions for years?

  • I think this is engagingly written and thoroughly researched. I find it all very interesting and helpful. An impressive piece of journalism.

  • What a load of crap…you create something and it’s only yours for X amount of time. Welcome to Russia. I’m glad it’s only steamboat Mickey and that all color and regular newer Mickey is still protected to Disney. This is just absolutely insane.

    • Has ayone pointed out the use of the tune, “Turkey in the Straw”, in “Steamboat Willie”? That song, as per Wikipedia, can be traced back to a minstrel play “Old Zip Coon”, published “around 1934”. In 1928, it had, yes, become public domain, free for everyone to use, and no penny was spent for (and no credit was given to) the composers, in fill accordance with the copyright law. “Wecome to Russia?” No, America, fuck yeah!

    • Tell that to Ub Iwerks!

  • Disney’s role in copyright extension has been vastly exaggerated. The 1998 copyright act has passed to align US copyright with that of the EU (which extended copyright in 1993). It was supported by the entire entertainment industry and passed by nearly everyone in Congress from both parties.

    Personally I think copyright renewal every 20-30 years seems like a nice compromise.

  • We got a preview of coming attractions in the case of Sherlock Holmes. After Sir Arthur Conan Doyle’s death, his estate vigorously enforced the copyrights. It also demanded license fees from derivative works, which is why many early literary pastiches carry a notice of being “authorized”. Then, as early stories became public domain (in England, at least), the estate would argue that an “unauthorized” derivative work violated copyright by using a detail or “emotional development” from the last still-protected stories. As recently as 2020 they went after Enola Holmes, heroine of a series of books and Netflix films, claiming that Sherlock — her brother — shows emotions that only appeared in those later stories. As it happens, Doyle gave Holmes an emotional side and even a sensitivity towards women early on. And it all became moot in in 2023, when those last protected stories went PD.

    Since Mickey is a defined visual character with a history of changes, Disney will have a fairly easy time — for a few more years, anyway — keeping derivative works from looking too much like most familiar and popular versions of the mouse. That is, the ones they use to sell product. Expect ongoing redesigns/reboots to maintain distance between PD Mickeys and Merchandise Mickeys, especially when PD reaches the Technicolor era.

  • This is only mildly related, but you (yes, YOU) should write an article about which works were animated by Walt himself.

    • Hi Andrew!
      I’d be interested in exploring that. I was planning to read Walt in Wonderland, which details the silent era output of Walt Disney. For the time being I think my work is more interested in copyright/public domain, but I will add that to my list.
      Thanks for reading and giving an idea for future work!

  • A side question: Disney had a famously long and ugly legal battle over its rights to Winnie the Pooh, which Walt Disney bought in a deal that included an ongoing share of Pooh profits.

    What happens to things like merchandising licenses when the underlying work goes public domain? Does that mean Disney — and anyone else licensing a now-PD property — is released from paying royalties? Can anyone now label a teddy bear Winnie the Pooh so long as it doesn’t infringe on the Disney version?

    • Hi there!
      I’d recommend checking out Duke Law’s page on Winnie-the-Pooh for more in-depth answers to your questions.

      Versions that pull only from the 1920s books are okay as long for products and adaptations without licensing agreements. The Disney versions will remain under copyright for decades to come as the first short was published in 1966, so it will be public domain in 2062.

  • The best way for Disney to deal with this would be to put out the best, inexpensive Mickey Mouse and Silly Symphonies products from the early era. They should maintain a complete, in stock, release of all the shorts in Blu-Ray. Keep the price low so that public domain companies couldn’t compete. It might be cheaper to do this than pushing the government for copyright extensions!

  • Also, the Mickey Mouse character design was itself a slight variation of the mouse character designs constantly used in Aesop’s Fables, and characters named Mickey and Minnie Mouse had appeared in children’s books years before Steamboat Willie. Disney is lucky that he was ever able to copyright the character in the first place.

  • Copyrights were established so that authors and their immediate descendants could still earn from their art. It was NEVER intended for non-relatives, much less speculators like Sheldon Abend, to profit from the work of others. The last person named Disney who worked for the corporation died in 2009. Their “ownership” of the three 1928 Mickeys has lasted long enough. Besides, anyone who wants a copy already has one, given how often they’ve been released in various home formats. “Willie” is monetarily valueless to them now except as a logo.

  • I’m reading the facts, but to me, it’s better if Disney just renews the copyright.

    • Hi Anthony.

      The copyright for Steamboat Willie was renewed in the 1950s. The term of that renewal has just been extended multiple times since. It is not possible for Disney to renew further, and barring an act of Congress there is no further extension on the way.

  • I admit, I have mixed feelings about the Steamboat Willie Mickey going into the public domain. On one hand, I can see the benefits regarding further expansion of the characters and their respective universe as is the case with every other work that’s hit public domain status. I’m not the first to say this about the downside that we already have a horror game and a movie adaptation. I think we’ve already seen how that turned out with Winnie the Pooh.
    Personally I’m not too fond of taking works that were made with a certain image just to mold it into something grotesque, despite being a horror fan myself. I find it quite degrading and it doesn’t leave much to the imagination. Then again it’s been a long time since I’ve brushed up on copyright and public domain related reading, so it shows how much I know. It will be interesting to see what else comes out of this era for Mickey and other characters.

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