Mickey Mouse to Be Public Domain in 2023?

Now that Sherlock Holmes--both the char­ac­ter and Sir Arthur Conan Doyle’s orig­i­nal stories--has been offi­cial­ly declared to be in the pub­lic domain, some­one asked on Facebook when Mickey Mouse would enter the pub­lic domain. Being that I am, A) very inter­est­ed in intel­lec­tu­al prop­er­ty law, and, B) an American with a great famil­iar­i­ty to the cul­tur­al sig­nif­i­cance of Mickey Mouse, I found the ques­tion intrigu­ing. It’s a sim­ple answer--at least on the face of it.

Is 2023 the year copy­right pro­tec­tion runs out for Mickey Mouse and the sym­bol of Disney enters the pub­lic domain?
Mickey Mouse was cre­at­ed in 1928. At first glance, that means it should be sub­ject to the pro­vi­sions of the 1886 Berne Convention, which made the copy­right term life­time of the cre­ator plus 50 years. Then the Copyright Act of 1978 intro­duced a pro­vi­sion that, if the work in ques­tion is con­sid­ered made-for-hire, the copy­right term then becomes 75 years from the date of cre­ation, regard­less of author or own­er life. Being that the Walt Disney Company is the copy­right hold­er, not the late Walt Disney him­self, copy­right pro­tec­tion would there­fore have already run out in 2003.

Before that occurred, how­ev­er, the U.S. gov­ern­ment passed the Sonny Bono Copyright Term Extension Act of 1998, which extend­ed copy­right pro­tec­tion for made-for-hire or cor­po­rate works anoth­er 20 years. Thus pro­tec­tion for copy­right held by such enti­ties lasts 95 years now rather than the 75 defined in 1978.

Since Mickey Mouse was cre­at­ed in 1928… add 95… car­ry the one… Mickey Mouse should enter the pub­lic domain in 2023. Of course, copy­right is sep­a­rate from trade­mark, which pro­tects Mickey Mouse as a brand and mas­cot of the the Walt Disney Company for as long as the com­pa­ny keeps using it.

However, giv­en the pow­er of Disney, the vast for­tune tied up in that par­tic­u­lar piece of intel­lec­tu­al prop­er­ty, I would­n’t be at all sur­prised if Disney attor­neys some­how got the copy­right extended--again, as Disney was the dri­ving force behind the Sonny Bono Copyright Term Extension Act.

Intellectual prop­er­ty attor­neys: What do you think? Do you think Disney will allow Mickey Mouse to enter the pub­lic domain? How might such an event be blocked? Are you already see­ing Disney attor­neys and lob­by­ists at work to amend copy­right law once again?

Pariah Burke

Author, consultant, trainer, guru: Digital Publishing, ePub, InDesign, Illustrator, Photoshop, Quark. Empowering, Informing, Connecting Creative Professionals™

You may also like...