Mickeying Around with a Big Public Domain ‘Get’

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A frame from the 1928 Disney animated short-film, ‘Steamboat Willie.’

January 1 is recognized by most of us regular folks as New Year’s Day. But to lots of people in the arts and entertainment business, it’s also known as Public Domain Day. This is when the U.S. copyrights on a number of old movies, music, and books expire, allowing pretty much anyone to use those works in their own projects, however they see fit, free of charge and without getting into legal trouble.

I remember learning about this topic many years ago in high school or college, and finding it very fascinating. It struck me as strange and really kind of unfair that private rights to any artistic work would ever default to the public, but that’s how copyright laws work in this country.

Anyway, this year’s Public Domain Day was a banner one, in that two of the most iconic fictional characters of all time, Mickey Mouse and Minnie Mouse, became public property. Well, kind of…

The two debuted in the 1928 Disney animated short-film, Steamboat Willie, and it’s the copyright on that work that expired just a little over a week ago.

As you can see in the image above, Mickey looked a little different almost 100 years ago. The character has evolved over time. Multiple iterations transformed him and his girlfriend into the artistic depictions we widely recognize today.

So, to be clear, it’s the “Steamboat Willie” versions of the famous mice that are now public domain, and free to be used, recreated, and re-imagined for personal, professional, or commercial use.

“What good is that?” some of you may be asking.

Beyond royalty-free public screenings and advertising, there are some non-Disney film-production companies that are actually quite excited about this. In fact, immediately after it became public domain, multiple “Steamboat Willie” horror films, already well into production, were announced.

Here’s a trailer for one of them, Mickey’s Mouse Trap:

There’s also a horror video-game (of the “rodent outbreak” sub-genre) in the works called “Infestation 88” that will be using Mickey’s “Steamboat Willie” likeness.

Here’s a screenshot from it:

Okay, then.

And along with some comedic projects, my guess is that “Steamboat” Mickey and Minnie will sadly also end up in some adult-entertainment ventures… because that’s kind of thing that industry would do. (Or so a friend told me; I wouldn’t know anything about that.)

What I can promise, to those of you who may be wondering, is that Mickey and Minnie will not be making a cameo in the next Sean Coleman Thriller. Goofy might, but not Mickey and Minnie. And for those of you who are wondering about the status of my next book, I can tell you that after taking a months-long hiatus to focus on some important family matters, I’m determined to finish writing it in the upcoming months.

Wish me luck, and stay tuned.

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Have a favorite old-school Disney animated character? Tell me who it is in an email, or in the comment section below.


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Obligatory Dog Shot

“Whatevs…”


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