The Walt Disney Company, aka Disney, Lose that marquee character Mickey Mouse at the end of this year. Under U.S. copyright law, character rights expire 95 years after publication (for works published or registered before 1978). But don’t expect writers, directors, or rival studios to take advantage of the opportunity to create their own Mickey Mouse movies and shows. In case you didn’t know, “Steamboat Willie” was his 1928 animated short that made Mickey’s first appearance. It was nothing like the healthy, adorable anthropomorphic rodents we know today.
A more modern Mickey Mouse, a cute mouse with red shorts and rounded features, is still under Disney’s dirty feet. It must still be a pretty big loss, but I doubt anyone on House of Mouse is shedding a lot of tears. Media and entertainment conglomerates own some of the world’s largest and most profitable franchises. This list includes Marvel Cinematic Universe, Star Wars, Pirates of the Caribbean, Pixar movies, Avatar, Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs, The Lion King, Indiana Jones and countless classics. It contains.
The truth is that Disney executives couldn’t care less about the loss of Mickey Mouse, especially the obnoxious version of the character. The story of why it took 95 years to complete is an interesting and slightly unsettling story.
Disney’s Impact on U.S. Copyright Law
The first federal copyright law in the United States was enacted in 1790. This guaranteed “for 14 years from the time he recorded the title”, and if the author survived, he provided for renewal for a further 14 years. The law concerned books, maps and charts, excluding music and painting. They were included in the future. By the time Disney, founded by Walt and Roy O. Disney, was born in 1923 as Disney Brothers Studios (later under two name changes, called Walt Disney Studios and Walt Disney Productions at different times), The Rights Act (the most recent of which was 1909) allowed protection for published works for 56 years. This included an initial 28 years of his life and an option to renew him for another 28 years.
According to this, “Steamboat Willie” went out of copyright in 1984 and should have sent the characters into the public domain, which is horrific (by Disney anyway). launched a serious effort (also called lobbying) with Congress to It kind of made sense since the law hadn’t changed since 1909. Meanwhile, the world was changing radically, with new forms of media such as film, television, and radio becoming ubiquitous.
The Walt Disney Company’s efforts bore fruit when Congress enacted the Copyright Act of 1976. This allowed a published work to be under copyright for the author’s entire life plus more than half a century, or for 75 years if the work is owned by a corporation. rice field. Mickey Mouse was protected until his 2003.
So why didn’t “Steamboat Willie” enter the public domain in 2003?
For the simple reason that Disney still hated to let go of the first animated film. Just kidding, this is likely a case of companies trying to squeeze every last drop of profit out of his 80-year-old film. As 2003 approached, Disney once again lobbied Congress to extend copyright terms even further. The effort has paid off again. And in 1998, Congress enacted the Copyright Term Extension Act of 1998. Derisively called the “Mickey Mouse Protection Act,” it retained copyright for the life of the author and extended it for another 70 years. For corporate works, such as Disney’s, this law allows for his 95 years from the first publication of the work or his 120 years from its creation, whichever comes first.
Will Disney press again to prevent copyright expiry on ‘Steamboat Willie’?
Unlikely. As mentioned above, Disney is responsible for the world’s largest collection of pop culture franchises. It got even bigger with the acquisition of 20th Century Fox. A future in which Disney pretty much owns everything you see on TV or in theaters is no longer as improbable as it seems. , gobbles up every IP it can get and gets bigger and bigger. The company may have the image of a provider of cute, cuddly content, but it’s actually much darker.
Disney doesn’t even need “Steamboat Willie” or Winnie the Pooh (AA Milne’s 1926 story set in the 100 Acre Wood went out of copyright in 2021). It completely dominates the box office of MCU movies, nearly all of which have grossed close to $1 billion, even in pandemic-affected times. Each movie probably grossed $2 billion, and the fifth and final film could top that incredible $3 billion.