In two years, Disney could lose the exclusive rights to Mickey Mouse.
The original version of Mickey Mouse appeared in 1928; at the time U.S. copyright law protected Walt Disney’s iconic character for 56 years, but Disney later pushed for the Copyright Act of 1976, extended protections to 75 years. Then in 1998, Disney lobbied for an extension that expanded their rights to 95 years.
“The most recent extension came through the Copyright Term Extension Act in 1998, known to many as the Mickey Mouse Protection Act because of Disney’s heavy lobbying in support of the bill,” The Los Angeles Times noted, adding:
From 1987 to 1990 — around the time the legislation was being voted on — the Disney Political Action Committee donated $146,519 to federal candidates, while Disney employees gave $474,083 to candidates, plus an additional $133,382 to political parties and other PACs, according to a 1991 analysis by The Times.
“You can use the Mickey Mouse character as it was originally created to create your own Mickey Mouse stories or stories with this character,” Daniel Mayeda, the associate director of the Documentary Film Legal Clinic at UCLA School of Law, explained to The Guardian. “But if you do so in a way that people will think of Disney – which is kind of likely because they have been investing in this character for so long – then in theory, Disney could say you violated my copyright.”
The original version of Mickey Mouse debuted in “Steamboat Willie,” appearing premiered at the Colony Theatre on Broadway on November 18, 1928. Since then the character has appeared in over 130 films.
“While this first rat-like iteration of Mickey will be stripped of its copyright, Mayeda said Disney retains its copyright on any subsequent variations in other films or artwork until they reach the 95-year mark,” The Guardian noted.
“Copyrights are time-limited,” Mayeda said. “Trademarks are not. So Disney could have a trademark essentially in perpetuity, as long as they keep using various things as they’re trademarked, whether they’re words, phrases, characters or whatever.”
Suzanne Wilson, the head of the U.S. Copyright Office, served as the deputy general counsel for the Walt Disney Company for nearly ten years.
“Disney has been very active in trying to extend copyright terms,” Mayeda concluded. “Successfully, they have had their term for Mickey and so forth extended, but I doubt that they’re going to be able to get additional extensions. I think this is going to be the end of the line.”
(Disclosure: The Daily Wire has announced plans for kids entertainment content.)