Will Content Creators Be Able To Use Mickey Mouse for Free?


Jenna Ginn, Staff Reporter

For years, copyright laws have protected literary, dramatic, musical, and artistic works, such as poetry, novels, movies, songs, computer software, and architecture. You might be asking yourself, how does copyright protection work? It’s a type of intellectual property that gives its owner the exclusive right to copy, distribute, adapt, display, and perform creative work, usually for a limited time. The usual copyright law lasts for the author’s life plus an additional 70 years. Disney is having this problem with its beloved characters, such as Winnie the Pooh (which the copyright rule went up on January 1st, 2002) and the early version of Mickey Mouse (October 1st, 2024).

For years beloved characters such as Robin Hood and Sherlock Holmes have had the copyright rule up on surfaces, which gives creators the freedom to use the characters as they wish. They can make spin-off movies and tv shows and not have to pay the royalties they would typically have to pay. 

These copyright laws have severely influenced Sherlock Holmes and Peter Pan. Major movie companies have created many movies influenced by these cartoon and literary characters. There have been several lawsuits that have been in play as well because of these copyright laws. With the cause of one story being up for copyright, there are several conversations about should the character be up in the public domain. 

Smithsonian Magazine talks about the legal case of Klinger v. Conan Doyle Estate. The trial speaks on whether a copyright claim can persist on a character even if the works depicting that character have fallen out of copyright. The article ‘Sherlock Holmes’ is now officially off copyright and open for business,” written by Colin Schultz for the Smithsonian Magazine, states, “the defense of the Doyle estate went something like this; sure, Arthur Conan Doyle’s stories are now at least 90 years old, but other stories about Sherlock Holmes are still under copyright, therefore Sherlock Holmes is still under copyright, but judge Richard Posner didn’t buy the argument, and he ruled that Sherlock Holmes, the character, is now in the public domain.” 

Winnie the Pooh in the upcoming feature ‘Winnie the Pooh: Blood and Honey’
Jagged Edge Productions

Now Winnie the Pooh is fair game, as well. This year, Pooh will find himself in a new horror movie, Winnie the Pooh: Blood and Honey. A recently released trailer indicates a late 2022 or early 2023 release date.

The treatment of Sherlock Holmes and Winnie the Pooh may be a precursor to Disney’s beloved character, Mickey mouse. Originally Mickey Mouse was known as a steamboat driver in 1928 when Walt Disney created him. Otherwise known as Steamboat Willie, the character will soon enter the public domain. With Steamboat Willie, a.k.a. Mickey Mouse, Disney could run into legal problems with the rights to their character, which has spurned them to start the Mickey Mouse protection act to keep the beloved character safe from other creators. Mickey Mouse has influenced American lives for nearly a century and has been a formative part of our culture from childhood to adulthood. Suppose Disney wins the fight to keep the rights to Mickey in-house. In that case, that could have a lasting impact on other gargantuan characters like Superman, Batman, and Looney Toons. Walt Disney once said, “Laughter is timeless, imagination has no age, dreams are forever.” The question is will Disney be able to hold on to Mickey forever?