With several asterisks, qualification and caveats, Mickey Mouse in his earliest form will be the leader of the band of characters, films and books that will become public domain as the year turns to 2024.
In a moment many close observers thought might never come, at least one version of the quintessential piece of intellectual property and perhaps the most iconic character in American pop culture will be free from Disney’s copyright as his first screen release, the 1928 short “Steamboat Willie,” featuring both Mickey and Minnie Mouse, becomes available for public use.
Yeah Mickey makes the headlines but the earliest version of Minnie Mouse is also released to the public.
Mickey’s design and personality have evolved over the years, and he has appeared in hundreds of different outfits in media and at Disney Parks. For now, only Mickey and Minnie as they appeared in “Steamboat Willie,” as well as “The Gallopin’ Gaucho,” (both released in late 1928) are entering the public domain. So anyone hoping to make their own Mickey Mouse movie wouldn’t be able to put him in his “Sorcerer’s Apprentice” garb from “Fantasia,” for example.
“Plane Crazy,” the first Mickey film produced, was released after “Steamboat Willie” and “The Gallopin’ Gaucho,” in 1929, so remains under copyright until 2025.
As for comic strips another year of already published comics like Little Orphan Annie, Barney Google, Krazy Kat, The Gumps, and many more are freed. The complete Bobo Baxter by Rube Goldberg ran 1927 – 1928 so that is available, but there aren’t any REALLY BIG NAMES created in 1928.
The Wikipedia page lists the above two and a few other 1928 comic strip firsts. Room and Board, not the Gene Ahern/Judge Puffle version but the original by Sals Bostwick along with Jane Arden, a girl reporter years before Lois Lane or Brenda Starr, by Monte Barrett and Frank Ellis began. As did the Ripley’s Believe or Not simulacrum Strange As It Seems by John Hix.