Disney will lose Mickey Mouse exclusivity in 2024 (and that may not mean anything)

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The fact that Disney loses the exclusivity of the exclusive exploitation rights of Mickey Mouse in 2024 is a real bomb. And it is also completely inaccurate: there are a good number of nuances that can lead us to predict with a good chance of success that the situation of the Disney mascot in a couple of years will be very similar to the current one, if not identical. But it’s worth diving into the details to better understand the nuances of copyright law and its many pitfalls.

The verbatim. Mickey will enter the public domain, according to North American law, in the year 2024, almost 95 years after his first appearance, on October 1, 1928. But that does not mean that Mickey Mouse suddenly becomes a character whose effigy it can be marketed without permission or repercussions. Strictly speaking, you can market the original image of him (the one that appeared in the short ‘Steamboat Willie’) and create new stories with him.

The image of Mickey in that short film is less friendly than the current one: apart from the black and white, he had a more pronounced resemblance to a real rodent, a more pointed nose, a more stylized body, black eyes and a much longer tail. That Mickey Mouse visualization is the one released for collective use, but there’s a catch, because Disney hasn’t completely relinquished its ownership: it still owns the “Mickey Mouse” trademark.

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The magic of the trademark. That is, if the new work resembles Disney in some way, the company can sue the creator for trademark infringement in order to show that, for example, an adult version of that original Mickey can be linked to Disney. And how not to think of Disney when seeing Mickey Mouse, even if it is in a primitive version and still without softening? It’s practically impossible for Disney to lose a lawsuit like that: Mickey Mouse is Disney and Disney is Mickey Mouse, and he has lawyers who will spend all the time and money necessary to prove it.

This example is best understood with the case of Winnie the Pooh, the famous talking bear who is the protagonist of children’s novels published after 1926. The first of these has just entered the public domain, and the first important work derived from it is ‘Winnie the Pooh’. Pooh: Blood and Honey’, a horror movie in which Pooh and Piglet are dangerous killer dolls. Disney has had the rights to its version of Winnie the Pooh in effect since 1966, but its well-known version of the doll is wearing a red sweater. The one in the new movie is not wearing it, to make it clear that he is not the same Pooh from Disney.

Disney’s long relationship with copyright law. The first copyright protection law was established in the United States Constitution, and it was only extended for 14 years, extendable to another 14. But this period has been extended, and Disney has been largely responsible for it. For example, under the law in effect when ‘Steamboat Willie’ was released, Mickey would have been protected for 56 years (28 initial plus 28 renewal). That is, he would have reached 1984.

But Disney pushed hard on Congress to extend that period, arguing that the 20th century had seen the arrival of a series of media that was impossible to predict earlier in the century. Thus, it was reformed in 1976, establishing itself 50 years beyond the death of the author, or 75 for properties belonging to corporations, which brought the expiration of Mickey to 2003. But Disney did not stop pressing, just as it had done for years. popular singer and congressman Sonny Bono.

The new extension of the period, 70 years after the death of the author (as in Spain today) or 95 years for corporations, was named after the Sonny Bono Copyright Term Extension Act of 1998 in honor of the artist, who died that same year. . This brings us to June 1, 2024 as Mickey Mouse’s arrival in the public domain, if Disney doesn’t get a new extension approved. By the way: this last extension of 1988 is known as The Mickey Mouse Protection Act, which shows how important Disney’s interference in US law is.

The fact that Disney loses the exclusivity of the exclusive exploitation rights of Mickey Mouse in 2024 is a real…

The fact that Disney loses the exclusivity of the exclusive exploitation rights of Mickey Mouse in 2024 is a real…

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