Is Mickey Mouse finally in the public domain? Nearly a century after the iconic Disney cartoon character’s debut, the short answer is “sort of.”
The long answer is, of course, a bit more complicated. But many have for some time been asking the underlying question. Meanwhile, 2023’s artificial intelligence developments, not to mention those that are on the horizon, have rendered the query more pressing yet.
One needn’t stretch the imagination to see how AI systems, provided their developers were shielded from liability by the public domain, could promptly begin pumping out all manner of Mickey Mouse content.
The precise timetable associated with that reality remains to be seen; auto-generating Mickey Mouse derivative images en masse, even from source materials in the public domain, would bring a different set of rights-related considerations, including on the trademark front.
However, professionals and fans will have the chance to do as they please – with certain versions of the character – sooner rather than later. To be sure, as highlighted in a list compiled by Jennifer Jenkins, the director of Duke Law School’s Center for the Study of the Public Domain, the earliest iterations of Mickey and Minnie Mouse are set for a quick-approaching public domain entry.
These black-and-white renditions of the characters, as seen in Steamboat Willie and the silent version of Plane Crazy, are scheduled to make their way into the public domain along with other IP from 1928 as well as recordings from 1923.
Needless to say, it’ll be worth monitoring the creative byproducts of Mickey Mouse’s becoming available to use (in select forms, and with additional factors to weigh, once again) in media during 2024 and beyond. Capitalizing on the public domain arrival of another beloved character, Winnie-the-Pooh: Blood and Honey hit theaters earlier this year.
Now, after the movie reportedly raked in $5.2 million on a $100,000 budget, an aptly titled sequel, Winnie-the-Pooh: Blood and Honey 2, is set to release this coming Valentine’s Day.
Bigger picture, a number of musical compositions (not recordings thereof) are also making their public domain debuts in 2024. Among these works are “Let’s Do It (Let’s Fall in Love),” “When You’re Smiling,” and “You’re The Cream in My Coffee,” to name just a few.
And on the recordings side, Bessie Smith’s “Down Hearted Blues,” Ida Cox’s “Lawdy, Lawdy Blues,” the Ray Miller Orchestra’s “Bambalina,” and “Froggie More,” from King Oliver’s Creole Jazz Band and featuring Louis Armstrong, are some of the works that will likewise become available for public use.