What is Public Domain Day & Why is Mickey Mouse Tangled Up in it?
Each year, on January 1, Public Domain Day happens and thousands of copyrighted works enter the United States public domain. 2024 is no exception and has been in the news more than usual with the addition of Mickey Mouse, the Steamboat Willie version to be exact. So, what does all of this actually mean? After almost a century, the specific version of Mickey Mouse from 1928 will be available for anyone to use, copy, and change. Disney managed to halt this Mickey going into public domain for years but it seems the battle is almost over.
Things are still a little tricky. Anyone can share, change, or copy the Steamboat Willie version of Mickey Mouse but you have to be careful not to mislead people into thinking your version is made by Disney. Think of it this way, you can create and sell a hat with this version of Mickey but don’t claim that someone is purchasing it from Disney directly. You also cannot use any new versions of Mickey Mouse until those go into the public domain. This may cause more legal issues for Disney if they decide to go after people who do things incorrectly.
While you might think with all the news surrounding this case that this is the first time a Disney character has entered the public domain. However, it is interesting to learn that other Disney characters including Winnie the Pooh, Snow White, Cinderella, and Alice in Wonderland are already in there. Still, you have to be careful because while copyrights eventually expire, trademarks do not. Why does all of this even matter? Well, some of the best ideas and art can be inspired by works in the public domain and lead to new and exciting offerings. It also allows works of art to be legally shared more often and reach a new audience. Just think of all of the films, books, music, and more based on the works of Shakespeare and you’ll get the idea.
What other works of art are heading into the public domain in 2024? Many books including “Lady Chatterley’s Lover” by D.H Lawrence and “Orlando” by Virginia Woolf; films such as The Circus and even iconic songs such as “The Wedding March” will all be in the public domain. Check out a more extensive list here.