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Thursday, May 23, 2024

The Story of Mickey’s Copyright: An Early Disney Production Is Going to Become Public Property

The manner in which Disney safeguards the characters it brings to life is hardly one that inspire feelings of warmth and fuzziness.

It was previously the responsibility of this firm to order the removal of an unlicensed Minnie Mouse mural from a Florida day care facility. Disney informed a stonemason in 2006 that carving Winnie the Pooh onto a child’s headstone would infringe the company’s copyright for the character. Because of the company’s extensive lobbying efforts in 1998 for an expansion of copyright rights, the resulting legislation was jokingly referred to as the Mickey Mouse Protection Act.

Mickey Mouse, on the other hand, who is considered to be one of Disney’s most iconic characters, is about to become available to the public for the very first time. The short film “Steamboat Willie,” which was released in 1928 and is credited with introducing Mickey Mouse to the world, will lose its copyright protection in the United States and a few other countries at the end of the following year. This has fans, copyright experts, and potential Mickey grabbers wondering how the notoriously litigious Disney will react to this development.

According to Aaron J. Moss, a partner at Greenberg Glusker in Los Angeles who specialises on copyright and trademark law, “I’m seeing in Reddit forums and on Twitter where folks — creative types — are getting excited about the possibilities, that somehow it’s going to be open season on Mickey.” “However, it is an incorrect interpretation of what is taking place with regard to the copyright.”

There is just one copyright that will soon expire. It focuses on the first appearance of Mickey Mouse, which was in the short film “Steamboat Willie,” which ran for eight minutes and had very little of a storyline. This Mickey does not talk, but he has a long tail, a snout that looks like a rat’s nose, and eyes that are not fully developed. He has a bad side to him. One of the scenes in “Steamboat Willie” is him torturing a kitten. In another performance, he plays the trombone with a scared goose.

Copyright laws continue to protect later iterations of the character, such as the version of Mickey with a rounder, friendlier appearance, who wears red shorts and white gloves and is most well-known to modern audiences. They will gradually become accessible to the general public over the course of the next decades.

According to Jane C. Ginsburg, an expert on intellectual property law who teaches at Columbia University, “Disney has frequently changed the character, not necessarily as a programme of copyright management, at least initially, but to keep up with the times.”

Due to the fact that the copyright for “Steamboat Willie” has already expired, the black-and-white short may be exhibited without the consent of Disney and even be purchased by third parties.

Another piece of intellectual property owned by Disney, Winnie the Pooh, provides a glimpse into the future.

This year, A.A. Milne’s classic children’s book “Winnie the Pooh,” which was first published in 1926, entered the public domain. Since then, a newcomer to the film industry has created a low-budget, live-action slasher picture called “Winnie-the-Pooh: Blood and Honey,” in which the chubby yellow bear becomes a raging psychopath. In one of the scenes, Pooh and his companion Piglet use chloroform to knock out a lady who is bathing in a hot tub, and then they drive a vehicle on top of her while she is still unconscious.

As long as the filmmaker stays true to the 1926 material and does not include any parts that were created after 1926, Disney has no legal action for copyright violations. On February 15, “Winnie-the-Pooh: Blood and Honey,” which was directed by Rhys Waterfield and was produced by Disney, will get a one-day theatrical release in the United States thanks to Fathom Events.

A copyright protects a particular work from being copied without permission, while trademarks are intended to prevent customers from being confused about the origin and quality of a product or service and are thus meant to prevent consumer confusion.

Ms. Ginsburg noted that any usage of the original Mickey that is in the public domain cannot be interpreted as originating from Disney since it is in the public domain. She went on to say that the strength of this protection is enhanced by the fact that the character, even in his early phase, has such a tight link with the business. People take a quick look at those ears, grin, and “immediately identify it with Disney,” according to what she stated.

In 2007, Walt Disney Animation Studios underwent a rebranding effort that resulted in the incorporation of the “Steamboat Willie” mouse into the company’s logo. It has featured before every movie the unit has produced since then, including “Frozen” and “Encanto,” which has strengthened the old character’s link with the corporation. In addition, Disney offers a line of items based on the song “Steamboat Willie,” which includes socks, backpacks, mugs, stickers, tees, and toys.

David Faber
David Faber
I am a Business Journalist of The National Era
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