Disney’s 1928 Versions of Mickey and Minnie Mouse Enter the Public Domain

The earliest versions of the characters appear in the 1928 film 'Steamboat Willie.'

Lmpc / LMPC via Getty Images

Disney’s copyright for the earliest versions of Mickey Mouse and Minnie Mouse has expired.

The BBC reports that now that these images have entered the public domain, anyone can reimagine the 1928 versions of the pair, which appeared in the 1928 short film, Steamboat Willie.

According to US law, the characters became public domain on Jan. 1, 2024, since the company could only hold on to the rights for 95 years.

Today is Public Domain Day.

This year in the United States, the earliest incarnation of Mickey Mouse enters the public domain through “Steamboat Willie,” an animated short film that served as the character’s debut. 🧵⬇️ (1/4) pic.twitter.com/adLf9BS2sL

— Wikipedia (@Wikipedia) January 1, 2024
Twitter: @Wikipedia

Disney still issued a reminder that they have rights over current iterations of Mickey and Minnie. "We will, of course, continue to protect our rights in the more modern versions of Mickey Mouse and other works that remain subject to copyright," the company said.

In addition to these two Disney characters, the copyright claims to other well-known films, books, music, and characters from 1928 are now open to the public. Other items include Charlie Chaplin's silent romantic comedy The Circus, English author AA Milne's book The House at Pooh Corner, Virginia Woolf's Orlando, and DH Lawrence's Lady Chatterley's Lover.

Mickey and Minnie’s copyright was originally set to expire in 1984, but Congress lengthened Disney’s claim to the characters by 20 years—and then, in 2004, Congress once again extended the expiry to 2024.

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