As a result of US copyright law, entertainment giant Disney could soon lose exclusive rights to some of the characters most responsible for the brand’s universal recognition, including the mouse that acts as its mascot. Mickey Mouse will enter the public domain in 2024, nearly 95 years after its creation on October 1, 1928, the time span after which copyright expires in an anonymous or pseudo-anonymous body of artistic works.
“The beloved character was created in 1928 and the cartoon is widely regarded as a pioneer in animation”
Daniel Mayeda is Associate Director of the Documentary Film Legal Clinic at UCLA School of Law and a veteran media and entertainment attorney. He said copyright expiration is not without limitations.
You can use the Mickey Mouse character as originally created to create your own Mickey Mouse stories or stories featuring this character. But if you do this in a way that makes people think of Disney, which is quite likely because they’ve invested in this character for so long, then Disney could theoretically say you’ve infringed my copyright. Mickey Mouse first appeared in black and white white cartoon steamer Willie. Animation was a pioneer in animation because it used synchronized sound, where on-screen movement matched the music and sound effects, producing one of the most recognizable images in film and television.
According to the National Museum of American History: Over the years, Mickey Mouse has gone through several changes in terms of his appearance and personality. In his early years, the mischievous and mischievous Mickey looked more like a rat, with a long pointed nose, black eyes, a rather small body with scrawny legs, and a long tail. Copyright, Mayeda said Disney retained its copyright on all later variations in other films or works of art until they reach the 95 year mark. Other characters have already become public: with unpredictable and somewhat shocking results.
Honey-loving bear Winnie the Pooh of the Hundred Acre Wood and most of his animal friends entered the public domain in January this year, and some wasted no time in capitalizing on the beloved characters -Winnie the Pooh in a Mint Mobile- use commercial. In the ad, Reynolds reads a children’s book about Winnie the Screwed, a bear with an expensive phone bill. Even more disturbing is that Pooh and his close friend Piglet are now the stars of Winnie the Pooh: Blood and Honey, a future horror film to be released written and directed by Rhys Waterfield, who sees the two on a bloody killing spree after they abandoned by her old friend Christopher Robin.
Mayeda said it’s important that artists like Waterfield don’t push boundaries when it comes to creating new work based on the old characters. Certain aspects of a character that the general public recognizes as part of the Disney brand are off-limits to artists wishing to take advantage of copyright expiration dates. If a particular work leads the public to believe that it is actually affiliated with Disney, there can be serious legal ramifications.
Copyrights are temporary, Mayeda said. Trademarks are not. So, essentially, Disney could have a trademark forever as long as they keep using different things as a trademark, be it words, phrases, characters, or whatever Pooh’s red shirt that Waterfield intentionally didn’t use in his film.
In an interview with Variety, Waterfield said, “We tried to be extremely careful. We knew there was that line in between, and we knew what their copyright was and what they were doing. So we did as much as possible to make sure [the film] was only based on the 1926 version. Nobody will confuse that [for Disney]. When you see the cover for it and you see the trailers and the stills and all that, no one is going to think that this is a kid’s version of it. Disney still retains exclusive rights to the hopping tiger, Tigger, for one more year since its first appearance was not before 1929 in The House at Pooh Corner, the series of stories written by Winnie the Pooh creator AA Milne.
The Walt Disney Company has a long history with US copyright law. Suzanne Wilson, once Deputy General Counsel of The Walt Disney Company for nearly a decade, now heads the US Copyright Office and underscores the company’s relationship with the government’s copyright list after Disney publicly opposed Florida’s parental rights in the education bill, which is commonly used referred to as the “Don’t Say Gay Bill”. Thanks to special copyright protections in Congress, awakened companies like Disney have made billions while increasingly reaching out to awakened activists. It’s time to take away Disney’s special privileges and usher in a new era of creativity and innovation.
“Mayeda called Hawley’s reaction purely political.”
It doesn’t stand a chance, Mayeda said, referring to Hawley’s Copyright Clause Restoration Act, which aims to limit new copyright protections to 56 years and make the change retroactive for big companies like Disney, which have been granted unnecessarily long copyright monopolies active in trying to extend copyright terms, Mayeda said. They have successfully extended their tenure for Mickey and such, but I doubt they will be able to get additional extensions. I think that will be the end of the road.
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