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  • Writer's pictureDavid Baker

How much of Mickey Mouse really is in the Public Domain’?

As we’ve previously discussed, 2024 started with a real bang when it comes to some seriously exciting news in the world of intellectual property. Believe it or not, Mickey Mouse has officially entered the public domain! Yep, you read that right. The iconic rodent himself is breaking free from the copyright chains. It's like Mickey's version of dropping a surprise album.

Now, before you start imagining a horror movie starring Mickey and friends, hold on to your mouse ears. At least two spooky films featuring the black and white, almost rat-like, Steamboat Willie version of Mickey Mouse have been announced. It's like a Disney remix, but with a creepy twist. Can't wait to see what they come up with!

Quick heads up, though – it's only the Steamboat Willie Mickey that's strolling into the public domain park. The modern, round-faced Mickey in red pants is still under the federal copyright umbrella. So, here's a pro tip: when it comes to Mickey, the cardinal rule of intellectual property is crystal clear – "don't mess with the Mouse." Trust us, you don't want to find out the hard way.

But hold up, it's not all sunshine and rainbows in the public domain. Intellectual property in the U.S. is like a tangled web of rights – copyrights, trademarks, patents – you name it. Just because one protection has expired doesn't mean the others are taking a vacation.

Now, if you've seen any recent Disney movies, you've probably noticed that magical moment when pencil strokes turn into Steamboat Willie, dancing and whistling while the Walt Disney Animation Studios name makes a grand entrance. Well, surprise surprise, Disney trademarked that entire sequence (U.S. Registration No. 6,846,660, to be precise). So, any aspiring directors out there, beware – there's a real risk of stepping on Disney's trademark toes if you decide to tango with Steamboat Willie.

Even if Disney doesn't throw down the trademark infringement gauntlet (which, trust us, is no cheap popcorn), there are other tricks up their sleeves. We're talking about remedies like dilution by tarnishment. Translation: Disney could argue that those proposed horror movies mess with Mickey Mouse's vibe and tarnish the beloved icon of children's entertainment. Ouch.

Why It Matters. Disney didn't become the media powerhouse it is today by playing Mickey-sized games with intellectual property. They're fiercely protective of their IP, and rightly so. So, if you're thinking of diving into the public domain goldmine, better strap on your legal helmet and seek some guidance. And creators, listen up – knowing your rights and how to protect them is like having a superpower in this complex IP universe.

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