Disney Mickey Mouse Public Domain

Chinese Disney Fans Shocked Mickey Mouse Will Soon Be Public Domain

According to U.S. copyright law, once Disney’s copyright expires in 2024, anyone and everyone can (in theory) begin using the iconic mouse as they please

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1:15 PM HKT, Mon July 11, 2022 2 mins read

Disney’s copyright and exclusive rights to some of its most iconic characters — including Mickey Mouse — will expire in 2024. The news has triggered considerable attention worldwide, including in China, where netizens have expressed their surprise at the high-profile copyright expiration.

According to U.S. copyright law, exclusive rights to commissioned works expire 95 years after publication. For Mickey Mouse, the 95-year mark will fall on January 1, 2024.

Once the iconic cartoon character enters the public domain, anyone and everyone can begin using it as they please (in theory), which includes tweaking Mickey Mouse’s original look from the cartoon Steamboat Willy, which initially debuted in 1928.

However, as The Guardian noted, if the character is used in a way that reminds viewers of Disney, the company can claim a trademark violation. This is a genuine risk, considering how intimately connected Mickey Mouse is to the Disney brand.


Mickey Mouse’s debut appearance in the black-and-white film ‘Steamboat Willy’ in 1928

While Disney has successfully extended its copyright twice, media and entertainment lawyer Daniel Mayeda told The Guardian, “I doubt that they’re going to be able to get additional extensions. I think this is going to be the end of the line.” 

Mickey’s release to global creatives won’t be the first time Disney has lost exclusive rights to a character: Winnie the Pooh entered the public domain in January this year. This change in copyright protections allowed filmmaker Rhys Waterfield to insert the character into an unsettling horror movie titled Winnie the Pooh: Blood and Honey


Winnie the who? You’re not alone if you don’t recognize this version of the fictional anthropomorphic teddy bear

Mickey Mouse’s debut in Steam Boat Willy was revolutionary at the time for its synchronization of sound and film. Since its release, the iconic Mickey character has gone through several rounds of transformations and enjoyed massive popularity across the world.

hashtag related to Disney’s expiring copyright has received 180 million views on the Chinese microblogging platform Weibo, prompting an outpouring of emotional posts.

“I remember watching Mickey Mouse and Donald Duck when I was little. I really miss my childhood — it was so fun,” reminisced one netizen.

Another echoed, “I like Mickey Mouse; Mickey Mouse and Donald Duck are my childhood memories! I don’t want to see weird-looking versions of Mickey Mouse.”

Others needlessly worried about not being able to catch Mickey and Minnie at Disney parks. One fan noted, “Oh no! I haven’t been to Disneyland yet. I still hope to see Disney’s most famous couple.”

“Disney without Mickey Mouse? That sounds like something that would only happen in a parallel universe,” another commented, clearly unaware that Disney and its properties will almost certainly continue to feature the iconic mouse prominently.

According to the Chinese financial news site Caijing, multiple domestic enterprises have registered trademarks for Mi Laoshu, Mickey Mouse’s name in Mandarin. Per Chinese law, trademarks can be renewed every 10 years.

Mickey Mouse aside, Disney characters like Linabell and Duffy the Disney Bear are also extremely popular in China — although it will be a little while before they are public domain. 2016 saw the grand opening of Shanghai Disneyland, the sixth Disney resort in the world but the first of its kind for its countless details tailored to the Chinese market.

In recent years, Disney has also increased its output of Chinese-themed films like Shang-Chi, Turning Red, and Mulan.

All images via IMDb

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