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Mickey Mouse “Steamboat Willy” to Enter Public Domain

Walt Disney Co begins its first round of layoffs

The new year rises with newer opportunities for creative artisans to explore their imagination with time. Making this exciting this year, Jan 1, 2024, to be exact, is the entrance of Mickey and Minnie into the public domain. Entertainement has always been seen as that for everybody, but sometimes it can be controlled and curtailed too. One such control is being opened up to the public and the excitement is real.

There is a long history of Mickey being appropriated for underground comics, with Dan O’Neill’s 1971 countercultural attack on Mickey Mouse. His underground comic book, “Air Pirates Funnies,” paints the nostalgic mouse as someone who is smuggling drugs and doing other illegal activities. Of course, Disney sued him, and he has a huge fine if he were ever to attempt to draw the mouse again. But, from jan 1 2024, he can, and he might. 95 years after his debut in the short film, “Steamboat Willie,” Mickey’s expiration from copyright serves to be a milestone too.

As reported, every Jan 1 Jenkins celebrates Public Domain Day wherein a long list of work that is free for artists to remix and reimagine is published. This year’s list includes other interesting characters such as Tigger, who made his first appearance in 1928.

But why was there so much protection regarding the mouse? Lawrence Lessig, a Harvard Law professor explains in detail. Interestingly, he was the most prominent critic of the 20-year extension of the copyright. Without this the Disney copyright would have lost its signature character in 2004 itself. He called it the ‘Mickey Mouse Protection Act.” He fought the extension to the Supreme Court. While he lost the debate, this conversation sparked interest among the creative commons and nodded towards a ‘remix culture.’

What will this public domain entrance mean to artists? It is interesting to note how creative freedom is often curtailed between the lines of owning art and maintaining the said ownership. In the case of Mickey Mouse, millions of creative remixes of the famous mouse were stalled owing to the copyright. But, from Jan 1, 2024, that shall not be the case. As O’Neill said, “He belongs to everybody.”

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