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Student news of The Woodlands High School

The Caledonian

The Student News Site of The Woodlands High School
Student news of The Woodlands High School

The Caledonian

Steamboat Willie, Mickey Mouse and you

Steamboat Willie, Mickey Mouse and you

Mickey Mouse has been one of the most iconic fictional characters in history. Almost anywhere you go, if you show someone a photo of him and ask them who it is, they’ll be like “Oh yeah, that’s Mickey!” It’s kind of hard not to know who he is, really. But did you know that you could use a version of him in any sort of media you would like now, without any worry for copyright issues?

In the copyright system, there’s this thing called the “Public Domain,” which is basically the exception within copyright rules, where pieces of fiction, characters, and the like, are free from any sort of restriction from companies and copyright holders. They essentially belong to the public now, and they can do what we want with it. It states that any piece of content enters the Public Domain either 95 years after its initial release or 75 years after the creator’s death. This is why many fairy tales, classic movie monsters, and iconic characters such as Sherlock Holmes are considered public domain, since these pieces of work initially appeared hundreds of years ago. There are many other aspects of the Public Domain Law, but those aren’t important right now.

This all leads back to Mickey Mouse. The original cartoon that featured the character, Steamboat Willie, was released on November 18, 1928. Since 95 years have now passed, that cartoon and its characters have entered the Public Domain. That version of Mickey and Minnie mouse is allowed to be used by the public without Disney’s approval.

But know that it has to be this version of the character. Gray pants, beady black eyed Mickey Mouse. The entirety of the character is not in the Public Domain, so you can’t use, say, the Mickey from The Sorcerer’s Apprentice or any modern version of the character. But this hasn’t stopped people from pouring in through the flood gates to take advantage of this.

The cartoon officially entered the Public Domain on January 1, 2024. In the following hours after this, many different works were premiered featuring the character front and center. The most prominent was the trailer for the upcoming horror-comedy film, Mickey’s Mouse Trap, which features a serial killer dawning the mask of Mickey Mouse to torture his victims. Immediately following that, a different Mickey Mouse horror-comedy film was announced to be in pre-production, telling the events of the original cartoon as a griddy, slasher film. Oddly, a similar situation like this happened just a year ago with both Winnie the Pooh: Blood and Honey, which featured a version of Winnie the Pooh based off of the original book written by Alan Alexander Milne, which had just entered the Public Domain that same year. This is all not even mentioning the countless amount of people who have just re-uploaded the cartoon on YouTube (trust me, there are a lot). And this was only a few days after the cartoon entered Public Domain, and we will most likely see more of this later in the year.

But why are people doing this, and so soon, no less? Well, for those of you who don’t know, Disney has been under a bit of hate in the last few years. There are a multitude of factors as to why, like most seeing their recent live-action remakes as being nothing but lazy cash grabs, or their overflowing of content from the MCU and Star Wars. But one reason why is because they were one of the more aggressive companies when it came to Copyright. They were one of the only companies to heavily push having the Public Domain Law expanded. Before then, pieces of work only took about 50 years or so to be considered Public Domain. It had led to many people claiming the latest update to the Law as the “Mickey Mouse Protection Act.”
So, in a way, people constantly using Steamboat Willie’s version of Mickey Mouse in anything from re-uploads of the original cartoon to upcoming slasher films could be seen as protest. Two big middle fingers to the company, since they’d been the most upset about it, and now they can’t do anything about it!

Disney has held the keys to the chains that bind the copyright of their cartoons over the years. But that was so long ago. In the coming years, as more and more things are added to the Public Domain’s catalog, we’ll definitely be seeing a lot of changes come to the world of entertainment, as those chains are very slowly removed.

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About the Contributor
William Hicks, Staff
William has been at TWHS since 2021.  He has a collection of Plague Doctor masks and likes all foods, except the ones he doesn't like.  When not at school, he is a stone statue playing video games or watching YouTube.
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