New Year’s Eve 2024 frees the first Mickey Mouse from copyright

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By John

The first versions of Mickey and Minnie are finally free from copyright: In a highly symbolic deadline, the popular characters from the 1928 cartoon Steamboat Willie will lose copyright protection on New Year’s Eve, meaning they can be adapted at will.

The same fate will befall works released in the same year such as the novels All Quiet on the Western Front by Erich Maria Remarque, Lady Chatterley’s Lover by DH

This is how it went when the rights to Pooh Bear, one of Disney’s most profitable franchises, expired in 2022, after the popular character created by AA Milne was released together with other friends from the Hundred Acre Wood except Tigger (free from January 1st because he appeared for the first time in a 1928 story): a debut filmmaker transformed him into the protagonist of a horror film, Winnie-the-Pooh: Blood and Honey, released this year in streaming on Peacock.

Will the same happen to Mickey Mouse from Steamboat Willie? The menacing Mickey Mouse from the animated short directed by Walt Disney himself and his partner Ub Iwerks, will turn the fateful 96 years required by law on November 18, 2024 with the result that on New Year’s Eve he will be included among the new ‘icons’ of the public domain. Disney played a leading role in the all-out defense of copyright by pushing for an act of Congress which in 1998 extended the protections provided by copyright laws by twenty years, from 75 to 95. Renamed by detractors the “Mickey Mouse Protection Act”, the provision had been approved under pressure from the Anaheim giant – but also from a large number of copyright holders – to protect the creations of its artists for as long as possible, starting from Steamboat Willie. In 2024 – Disney specified – only the copyright on that version of the mouse (rat-like nose, eyes without pupils, long tail) will expire, while all other versions of Mickey Mouse will remain protected, including the one with the red shorts and the white gloves that today’s audiences are most familiar with.

Lawrence, Orlando by Virginia Woolf as well as the silent classic The Cameraman (or The Monkey) with Buster Keaton and The Threepenny Opera by Bertold Brecht. It is an annual earthquake with profound consequences, because it allows not only to read or view and listen to free works on web platforms such as those of Google, but also to create new versions without having to pay royalties and without the new authors become the target of lawsuits.