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Disney’s copyright over Mickey Mouse due to expire

These days, you could be forgiven for simply associating Disney with worldwide theme parks and blockbuster franchises, but the story began back in 1928 with Mickey Mouse – the company Mascot. Along with pals Minnie, Goofy, Pluto, and Daffy Duck, Mickey Mouse has been a staple of the Disney brand since the beginning of its global journey, first appearing in their acclaimed black and white cartoon “Steamboat Willie”.

2024 will mark 95 years since the cheerful mouse made his first debut. After several extensions, current Copyright law in the US states that after 95 years of protection, this finally will end – with Mickey Mouse entering the public domain, where he can be used without penalty.

Significantly, since 1928 Disney’s famous character has gone through several transformations. Consequently, only the copyright for the original version of Mickey – as depicted in that year’s Steamboat Willy – will expire. Since then, Mickey has put on weight, lost it again, gained some eyebrows and donned his famous bright red shorts and white gloves. Come 2024, therefore, legal penalties may still be applied to those using later iterations of Mickey’s look.

So, what does this mean for the entertainment giant? And how have other famous characters been used after their copyright has ended?

Mickey isn’t the first and certainly won’t be the last character whose copyright will expire. Indeed, earlier this year Winnie the Pooh entered the public domain, resulting in a range of interesting – and sometimes hilarious – “unofficial” content. Memorably, actor Ryan Reynolds jumped at the chance to use the honey-loving bear, in an ad dubbed “Winnie the screwed” for Mint Mobile. It features the original book, with creatively adapted text depicting the poor bear lamenting over his huge wireless bill. Similarly, another upcoming adaptation sees the usually cheerful and friendly Pooh in a completely different guise, in an indie horror movie ominously titled “Blood and honey”.

Whatever the future holds, and after what we can all agree has been a remarkable run, in 2024 perhaps we will come to see Mickey Mouse in a new light. Only time will tell!

What is copyright and how is it protected?

Copyright is an intellectual property type that gives the owner exclusive rights to the material. Everyone, knowingly or not, is a copyright owner. From taking a quick snap on your phone, to creating an original character like Mickey Mouse, copyright is an automatic right and is internationally recognised upon creation. It covers many areas including literature, music, art, education and beyond.

It’s an extremely important piece of intellectual property for brands to have in their portfolio, and protects against any misuse of your original works.

Why is it so important?

Any intellectual property theft can be extremely harmful to brands. Theft of your copyrighted materials can result in:

  • Diverted revenue – Copycats and scammers can pose as you online, using your copyrighted materials such as photos or artwork to sell cheap, knock-off versions of your products
  • Reputational harm – Consumers often buy items online thinking they are the real deal, and when they receive a sub-par product, it’s YOUR reputation that comes under fire
  • Customer harm – Copied or counterfeited products are often inferior in quality, sometimes even containing harmful chemicals or unsafe parts. Customers can also be scammed out of money on fake websites where all your copyrighted materials have been stolen and made to look like your real site.

How can you prevent copyright theft?

Protecting your brand is an extremely important part of growing your business, but we understand how time consuming it can be. Born from our Founder’s personal journey as an SME owner encountering copies of her own product, SnapDragon is dedicated to fighting fakes online.

Using a mixture of AI-technology and a talented team of brand protection analysts, we search online platforms to find any misuse of your intellectual property, and remove it, safeguarding your  revenue, reputation and customers.

We are currently offering a free brand check, to show you where your brand may be in danger of online fakes. Or, if you would like to try it out for yourself, our self-service solution may just be for you – sign up for a free trial here.

We breathe fire to protect your brand online

Posted in: Brand Protection Insights

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