Steamboat Willie Goes PD, The Mouse Not So Much

In 16 months Mickey Mouse‘s official debut* animated cartoon, Steamboat Willie, will go public domain, but The Mouse will remain very much a Disney property.

© Disney

The iconic character that has come to define the entire Disney brand made his first appearance as the title character in 1928’s Steamboat Willie, which will lapse into the public domain on January 1, 2024—95 years after its release. This led to speculation that Mickey Mouse will enter the public domain—however, it is only the iteration of Mickey Mouse known as “Steamboat Willie” that will no longer be protected.

Meanwhile, Daniel Mayeda from the UCLA School of Law told The Guardian: “You can use the Mickey Mouse character as it was originally created to create your own Mickey Mouse stories or stories with this character. But if you do so in a way that people will think of Disney—which is kind of likely because they have been investing in this character for so long—then in theory, Disney could say you violated my trademark.”

And it is guaranteed they will.

Emma Nolan, for Newsweek, discusses what Disney has been avoiding.


* Plane Crazy was Mickey Mouse’s first animated cartoon, but:

The silent version was copyrighted on May 16, 1928, a day after it was test screened. The copyright for the silent version was renewed on March 14, 1956. To this day, the silent version that premiered at the test screening has not been found by Disney [emphasis added]. The sound version, however, is available. It was copyrighted on August 9, 1930 and was renewed on December 16, 1957, however, the copyright of the film says 1929 (MCMXXIX).

So the lost silent version also goes public domain on January 1, 2024,
the sound version of that cartoon goes public domain January 1, 2025.

The first year of the Mickey Mouse comic strip goes pd January 1, 2026.

© Disney