Public Domain: Mickey and More in ’24

The big news in Public Domain 2024 is selected Mickey Mouse copyrights, whose animated shorts Steamboat Willie and The Gallopin’ Gaucho were released in 1928, will finally succumb to The Mickey Mouse Protection Act.

The Associated Press’ Andrew Dalton:

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.

Walt Disney World News Today has more details of Free Mickey:

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.

Copyright Lately delves into Mickey and the other, less critical, creations going p.d. in 2024.

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.

Perhaps the most famous would be Tailspin Tommy by Glenn Chaffin and Hal Forrest, the first strip to exploit the worship of Charles Lindbergh and the aviation craze. Tim Tyler’s Luck by Lyman Young also debuted in 1928. It ran far longer than it should have probably due to the syndicate efforts to play up to Lyman’s brother Chic (Blondie) Young.

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.

A familiar title to comics historians not on the Wiki list is Big Sister by Leslie Forgrave, it debuted in 1928.

And then there were any number of lesser comics that first appeared in 1928 and whose strips and panels from that year will be public domain in 2024, though if they are trademark free is another matter.

The Daily Cartoonist presents some of those:

That Certain Party by Jack Wilhelm

The Fumble Family by E. Courtney Dunkel

The Meadowlarks by Chuck Wells

The Pioneers by Glenn Chaffin and Lovrien Gregory

Skylark by Eddie Stinson and Elmer Woggon

Mary Ann Gay by Lou Skuce

The Outline of Oscar by Ellison Hoover

Kids by Bert Green

As for the REALLY BIG NAMES – those will come in 2025 when the Tarzan adaptations by R. W. Palmer with art by Hal Foster and Rex Maxon, the Armageddon 2419 adaptation retitled Buck Rogers by Philip Francis Nowlan and Dick Calkins, and Roy Crane’s Captain Easy all debut in 1929 and enter public domain.

5 thoughts on “Public Domain: Mickey and More in ’24

  1. So…what? These ancient strips, while of historical interest, will earn nobody nothin’…not the originators and owners, not anybody who looks at this stuff and says, “Ooh, free money.” If nobody has reprinted them by now, then nobody cares, and if they have already then who wants to buy a knockoff of an authorized version? And certainly, the I.P. aspect is worthless too because a public domain character can’t be copyrighted or trademarked exclusively. It’s everybody’s. That’s why Disney, who recently issued DVDs featuring their soon-to-be p.d. cartoons, need not worry. “Mickey Mouse” will be their trademark forever, as long as they use it regularly, and public-domain doesn’t erase that, nor does it prevent them from continuing to reissue their own, now p.d. property. Do you want a bogus knockoff “Plane Crazy” or “Steamboat Willie” toy or tee-shirt or DVD, or the authentic ones Disney made last year? If you’re satisfied with counterfeits from China of current stuff, I guess underpriced bootlegs of 1929 works will work for you. For me, if not for everyone, owning an original anything from 1927 is the only fun of having one. Otherwise, I’d suggest you be content with the scans of comic books and strips you can already have for $0.00, unless you want someone who will charge you large sums to collect them and reverse the process by changing them back into paper.

  2. That these characters and their original appearances can be repackaged is a by-product of copyright laws.
    I think the original intent was to allow other writers and artists to use them in fresh new stories/ways.
    Aren’t you salivating at the thought of new Outline of Oscar pages? (Which was probably p.d. long before now.)

  3. A few additional semi-big or at least interesting features that debuted in 1928: Dolly Dimples and Bobby Bounce, Muggs McGinnis, Petting Patty, Side Glances, Sunny Boy Sam, Benny, Flying To Fame. Allan “Taking the Bait” Holtz

    1. Dolly and Bobby, Muggs, Benny, and the Flying to Fame trio are in my Big Sister category – instantly recognizable, at least by name/title, to readers of comic strip history books.
      I grew up on an NEA comics page and it takes me by surprise to be told that Side Glances is that old.

  4. Copyright Lately’s article is interesting, but they really buried the lede. At the very end of the article they finally point out that Disney (and other zealous intellectual property owners) can still keep these works effectively out of PD based on trademark law. Anyone out there planning on publishing Mickey stuff should know that the Disney lawyers will likley be at your door with a cease and desist letter, and will probably be well within their rights to do so.

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