The next Public Domain Day, or January 1, 2024, will release the earliest version of iconic Disney couple Mickey and Minnie Mouse from the media giant’s copyright.
The black-and-white cartoon, Steamboat Willie, was one of the first times audiences were introduced to Mickey and Minnie.
Copyright laws are a bit tricky (Duke University has a great explainer) but in short, because the cartoon was released 95 years ago — or in 1928 — it qualifies as public domain in the U.S. by law in 2024. In 2023, works that were released in 1927, like the first Hardy Boy’s mystery book, became public domain, and so on.
Mickey Mouse has been at the center of copyright arguments.
Since Mickey’s debut, Congress expanded the copyright hold multiple times, which is sometimes referred to as the Mickey Mouse Protection Act, according to Jennifer Jenkins, a professor of law and director of Duke’s Center for the Study of Public Domain.
“[It] wasn’t just Disney that was pushing for term extension. It was a whole group of copyright holders whose works were set to go into the public domain soon, who benefited greatly from the 20 years of extra protection,” Jenkins told the The Associated Press.
It’s likely we’ll see some fresh — or not-so-fresh — creative takes on Mickey and Minnie in the future. Think 2009’s parody novel Pride and Prejudice and Zombies and, more recently, 2022’s horror flick Winnie the Pooh: Blood and Honey.
Disney told the Associated Press that it will continue to protect its rights to “more modern versions of Mickey Mouse” and other works that are still protected by copyright law.
“Ever since Mickey Mouse’s first appearance in the 1928 short film Steamboat Willie, people have associated the character with Disney’s stories, experiences, and authentic products,” a Disney spokesperson told The Associated Press. “That will not change when the copyright in the Steamboat Willie film expires.”
Other notable works joining the public domain in 2024 include Lady Chatterley’s Lover by D.H. Lawrence, All Quiet on the Western Front, The Cameraman starring Buster Keaton, and Tigger from Winnie the Pooh.