Should Mickey Mouse be Available to the Public?


Paris Bureau of the New York Times

Photograph of Walt Disney with Mickey Mouse

For years, the common everyday items in the public domain have allowed humans to create some of the most iconic characters like Dracula, Sherlock Holmes, Frankenstein, Frankenstein’s Monster, Robin Hood, and King Kong. But Disney has held back a certain character from the public domain.

Mickey Mouse was created in 1928 and after his hit short Steamboat Willie, he has been loved ever since. Mickey was originated from Oswald the Rabbit when Universal Pictures hired all but one of Walt’s employees and they said they still had rights over Oswald. Walt and his one employee Ub Iwerks worked hard to find a replacement for Oswald and they changed Oswald into a mouse and named it Mortimer. Walt’s wife apparently hated the name so she recommended naming the mouse Mickey and it stuck.

In the past, copyright laws stated that copyright duration was 28 years. Once those years ended they could get another 28 years. Then, Mickey could be available to the public in 1984 but that didn’t happen. Disney didn’t want to lose their mascot so they pushed Congress to change the laws and it worked. In 1976,  Congress assured Disney that they would keep Mickey for longer as they changed copyright to last the author’s entire life and an additional 50 years so Mickey would be protected until 2003. In 1998, Congress had to change copyright laws once again with the Sonny Bono Copyright Term Extension Act of 1998. This act made copyright last 70 years after the creator’s death so currently, Mickey will be available to the public in 2023. It is very likely that Disney will try to extend the copyright duration again but Disney should let him into the public domain.

Even though Mickey will be available in 2023, it’s only his past version. Only Mickey’s shorts Steamboat Willie and Barn Dance will be available. Just because these original cartoons will be able to be used, it doesn’t mean that people can just use Mickey to make their own cartoons or for their own use. It is slightly strange that Disney won’t let Mickey into the public domain such as many of their other characters. Characters like Hercules, Alice, Aladdin, and the Hunchback of Notre Dame were all from the public domain which let Disney make great movies like Alice in Wonderland.

Even though Mickey is the corporate symbol of Disney, he should be available to the public domain so new Mickey cartoons can be created and people can use him for their personal use.