Disney copyright on Mickey Mouse - when does he enter the public domain?

drwitz

Living the dream in Florida!
Joined
Jan 31, 2008
So I was thinking about copyright law and wondering when Mickey Mouse enters the public domain as a character. I thought it was 75 years after the author's death so I did a little research and found this interesting article.

https://priceonomics.com/how-mickey-mouse-evades-the-public-domain/

What are your thoughts? Given that Disney uses lots of works in the public domain as a basis for their films and rides, should Mickey Mouse ever be in the public domain or is he so much a part of the corporate identity that he never belongs as a publicly non-trademarked character?
 

BrianL

Doom Buggy Driver
Joined
Jul 24, 2013
I actually side with Disney on this issue. The reason is that they are still creating Mickey Mouse material and the company deserves ownership of the cahracter. Mickey Mouse and other characters don't really have a single author so it's not really tied to that. The public domain tales of years past were not being used by the original owner anymore. The entity that owns Mickey is a corporation, not Walt himself. I do not see a moral imperative to "make the works available" unless Disney wants to.

That said, honestly, I don't necessarily approve of the lobbying process and the Disney corporation buying politicians for temporary extensions. Also, the harm to the company would be minimal because the characters and names would still be trademarked. Still, I feel like if the character is still being used then the entity should retain copyright.
 
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  • Jason_V

    Mouseketeer
    Joined
    Mar 24, 2017
    Lobbying aside, if the character is still being legitimately used by the company, why should Mickey be in the public domain? Mickey and the rest are still being included in new productions every single year; they aren't laying fallow in the vault.

    Anyone can use the works that are in the public domain, whether it be characters, books, movies, music, etc. The real question for me is why isn't a studio or other creator using their own imagination to come up with a new character and makes millions off of that? Simple enough: most characters don't stick and it takes time and money to do so. Mickey is a known brand around the world. Anyone who wants to use him doesn't want to put the effort into all of those other pieces. They want the shortcut.

    It's really the same reason TV networks commission shows based on movies or known properties. There's a built in fanbase already and they don't have to devote as many resources to the show as they would have to with a new program.
     

    SeerPumpkin

    Earning My Ears
    Joined
    Apr 14, 2017
    Guys, Mickey (or any other IP made by Disney) is forever trademarked. Nobody will ever be able to use him on a product and try to pass it as official. As long as Disney exists, Mickey will be trademarked. What Disney will loose once they enter the public domain is the exclusive copyright - literally, the right to make copies of actual works, like Steamboat Willie and other shorts. When Steamboat Willie enters the public domain, everyone will be able to release its own DVD of it, i.e.. You could download it on torrent or put it on youtube and Disney wouldn't be able to do anything. But since Mickey is trademarked, you wouldn't be able to make your own cover of the DVD. You'd have to use an actual screencapture of the movie or use a new art that doesn't include Mickey.

    So, because Disney is a very hard company to understand and is almost letting those shorts rot on a shelf instead of making use of them or making them available to the public, I'd rather see them on the public domain rather sooner than later. Mickey will be protected and his movies will be easily accessible. Isn't that the best of both worlds?

    As an example, see Tarzan (the original stories). They are in the public domain and you don't see a new book about Tarzan being released every now and then. That's because the name Tarzan is trademarked and you have to obtain permission of Burrough's estate to use it. At least in my country (sorry, don't know US specific laws) that means that if I decide to republish a Tarzan novel today I can do it out of my own will. But I can't create new ones. Same thing happened with The Little Prince. The book and the author's illustrations fell into the public domain and for a while, all you could see in the bookstores were copies of the book. Tenths of different versions. At that point, you could fill a basket with different versions and translations that came out all of once by different publishers. But since the author's drawings are trademarked, you can't use the for other products besides the book without his estate permission.

    Sorry for the big post.
     

    BrianL

    Doom Buggy Driver
    Joined
    Jul 24, 2013
    Guys, Mickey (or any other IP made by Disney) is forever trademarked. Nobody will ever be able to use him on a product and try to pass it as official. As long as Disney exists, Mickey will be trademarked. What Disney will loose once they enter the public domain is the exclusive copyright - literally, the right to make copies of actual works, like Steamboat Willie and other shorts. When Steamboat Willie enters the public domain, everyone will be able to release its own DVD of it, i.e.. You could download it on torrent or put it on youtube and Disney wouldn't be able to do anything. But since Mickey is trademarked, you wouldn't be able to make your own cover of the DVD. You'd have to use an actual screencapture of the movie or use a new art that doesn't include Mickey.

    So, because Disney is a very hard company to understand and is almost letting those shorts rot on a shelf instead of making use of them or making them available to the public, I'd rather see them on the public domain rather sooner than later. Mickey will be protected and his movies will be easily accessible. Isn't that the best of both worlds?

    As an example, see Tarzan (the original stories). They are in the public domain and you don't see a new book about Tarzan being released every now and then. That's because the name Tarzan is trademarked and you have to obtain permission of Burrough's estate to use it. At least in my country (sorry, don't know US specific laws) that means that if I decide to republish a Tarzan novel today I can do it out of my own will. But I can't create new ones. Same thing happened with The Little Prince. The book and the author's illustrations fell into the public domain and for a while, all you could see in the bookstores were copies of the book. Tenths of different versions. At that point, you could fill a basket with different versions and translations that came out all of once by different publishers. But since the author's drawings are trademarked, you can't use the for other products besides the book without his estate permission.

    Sorry for the big post.
    What you say makes sense which is why I said I think the impact to Disney's bottom line would be minimal, but really, why should Disney have to release that copyright on their works that they own and can still monetize. Maybe it would be better for the fans, but Disney, as a corporation, does not owe us anything. They have every right to sit on their short films if they want to, or at least I think they should have that right. I feel that these things that are still in use should have those protections.
     

    wilkeliza

    DIS Veteran
    Joined
    Feb 1, 2013
    Never. Disney created his characters as apart of a company and the company actually owns the rights so as long as Disney exsists all versions of tgeir characters will stay in Disney's controlle unless sold. That is why Walt lost Oswald originally because even though he made him he didn't own him.
     
  • SeerPumpkin

    Earning My Ears
    Joined
    Apr 14, 2017
    What you say makes sense which is why I said I think the impact to Disney's bottom line would be minimal, but really, why should Disney have to release that copyright on their works that they own and can still monetize. Maybe it would be better for the fans, but Disney, as a corporation, does not owe us anything. They have every right to sit on their short films if they want to, or at least I think they should have that right. I feel that these things that are still in use should have those protections.
    Because everything should be made available to the public and enjoyed by the public, eventually. Copyright exist so everyone can be sure their works will be profited by them and protected during their lifetime, while also giving time for their descendants making it into a profit however they want for a while. Even patents can only be protected for a short span of the world's existance, so that everyone can make use of them.
    No art should be sitting on a shelf forever, unavailable to the public. Can you imagine a world where Shakespeare's plays and Mozart's symphonies are still protected? If works were to be forever protected, we would never have seen Disney's Snow White, Cinderella, Pinocchio, Alice in Wonderland, Fantasia, Bambi (which actually made Disney go trial to prove it was in the public domain and could have been used by them. They lost, but doesn't mean they didn't try.) and the list goes on and on.

    An US expert in copyright law, Pamela Samuelson, once identified eight values for the public ownership of works.
    1. Building blocks for the creation of new knowledge, examples include data, facts, ideas, theories, and scientific principle.
    2. Access to cultural heritage through information resources such as ancient Greek texts and Mozart's symphonies.
    3. Promoting education, through the spread of information, ideas, and scientific principles.
    4. Enabling follow-on innovation, through for example expired patents and copyright.
    5. Enabling low cost access to information without the need to locate the owner or negotiate rights clearance and pay royalties, through for example expired copyrighted works or patents, and non-original data compilation.
    6. Promoting public health and safety, through information and scientific principles.
    7. Promoting the democratic process and values, through news, laws, regulation, and judicial opinion.
    8. Enabling competitive imitation, through for example expired patents and copyright, or publicly disclosed technologies that do not qualify for patent protection.
    This is what we gain by having works in the public domain. If they're just sitting on a shelf, we just loose culture for a company who already proffited for many years off of it.
    Nonetheless, I really doubt they wouldn't try and profit anyway. When it falls into public domain and everyone can release these shorts, I don't doubt Disney would release them anyway the best they can. They would still profit.
     

    BrianL

    Doom Buggy Driver
    Joined
    Jul 24, 2013
    Because everything should be made available to the public and enjoyed by the public, eventually. Copyright exist so everyone can be sure their works will be profited by them and protected during their lifetime, while also giving time for their descendants making it into a profit however they want for a while. Even patents can only be protected for a short span of the world's existance, so that everyone can make use of them.
    No art should be sitting on a shelf forever, unavailable to the public. Can you imagine a world where Shakespeare's plays and Mozart's symphonies are still protected? If works were to be forever protected, we would never have seen Disney's Snow White, Cinderella, Pinocchio, Alice in Wonderland, Fantasia, Bambi (which actually made Disney go trial to prove it was in the public domain and could have been used by them. They lost, but doesn't mean they didn't try.) and the list goes on and on.

    An US expert in copyright law, Pamela Samuelson, once identified eight values for the public ownership of works.
    1. Building blocks for the creation of new knowledge, examples include data, facts, ideas, theories, and scientific principle.
    2. Access to cultural heritage through information resources such as ancient Greek texts and Mozart's symphonies.
    3. Promoting education, through the spread of information, ideas, and scientific principles.
    4. Enabling follow-on innovation, through for example expired patents and copyright.
    5. Enabling low cost access to information without the need to locate the owner or negotiate rights clearance and pay royalties, through for example expired copyrighted works or patents, and non-original data compilation.
    6. Promoting public health and safety, through information and scientific principles.
    7. Promoting the democratic process and values, through news, laws, regulation, and judicial opinion.
    8. Enabling competitive imitation, through for example expired patents and copyright, or publicly disclosed technologies that do not qualify for patent protection.
    This is what we gain by having works in the public domain. If they're just sitting on a shelf, we just loose culture for a company who already proffited for many years off of it.
    Nonetheless, I really doubt they wouldn't try and profit anyway. When it falls into public domain and everyone can release these shorts, I don't doubt Disney would release them anyway the best they can. They would still profit.
    But we're not talking about a single author here. We're talking about assets that belong to a company that still exists. If Disney as a company were defunct for 100 years, than I could see it, but as it stands they still make use of said assets. They are not dormant. Also, what is the necessity in cartoons to be made available to the public? Why must "everything" belong to everybody? Basically, they can take something away from you because "you've had it long enough." Maybe there would be some benefits to society as you cite (though I'm not sure cartoons satisfy most of those), but that's not really the owner's concern.

    All that said, I still don't like political shenanigans, even if I agree the laws should be changed.
     


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