Your Cart

Disney Loses Copyright of Early Version of Mickey Mouse

In a significant development from 1st January 2024, an early version of the iconic Mickey Mouse, featured in the 1928 short film Steamboat Willie, has lost its copyright protection. This change allows members of the public to freely use the image of Mickey and Minnie Mouse from their first screen appearance, signalling the end of the copyright term for this particular version.

The expiration of copyright for this early rendition of Mickey Mouse is in accordance with US law, which allows copyright to be held for 95 years. Congress has expanded this duration multiple times over the years. The copyright term passed in 1998 brought the US closer to the European Union's standards.

Jennifer Jenkins, a professor of law and director of Duke's Centre for the Study of the Public Domain, notes that this change is sometimes humorously referred to as the Mickey Mouse Protection Act. The extension of copyright terms was not solely driven by Disney; it benefited a broader group of copyright holders whose works were nearing public domain status.

The lapse of copyright for Steamboat Willie's Mickey Mouse is described as exciting and symbolic by Jenkins. This version of Mickey Mouse, with its mischievous, rat-like appearance, has now entered the public domain. However, more modern versions of Mickey Mouse will remain unaffected by this expiration.

A spokesperson for Disney reassures that more contemporary iterations of Mickey Mouse will continue to be protected under copyright. Disney emphasises that Mickey will persist as a global ambassador for the company in various mediums, including storytelling, theme park attractions, and merchandise.

Despite the expiration of copyright for this specific version, Disney still maintains a separate trademark on Mickey as a corporate mascot and brand identifier. Legal frameworks prohibit deceptive use of the character to mislead consumers into thinking a product is affiliated with the original creator.

Steamboat Willie is not the only creation entering the public domain in 2024. Other properties like Charlie Chaplin's film Circus, Virginia Woolf's novel Orlando, and Bertolt Brecht's musical play The Threepenny Opera have also reached the end of their copyright protection.

This shift raises intriguing questions about what features or traits of a character are copyrightable and may prompt legal discussions in the years to come. The expiration of copyright for Winnie the Pooh two years ago and now for Mickey Mouse signifies a broader trend with beloved childhood characters entering the public domain, paving the way for creative reinterpretations and adaptations.

As iconic characters take on new forms in the public domain, it marks a dynamic phase in intellectual property law, challenging companies to adapt and explore new avenues for protecting their brands and creations. The change in copyright status prompts reflection on the enduring legacy of cultural icons like Mickey Mouse and the evolving nature of intellectual property rights.

Check out our exam-focused Intellectual Property notes now.

Featured Collection

UOLLB Features

UOLLB First Class Law Notes

Diagrams and Charts

Our carefully designed diagrams and charts will guide you through complex legal issues.

Clear and Succinct Definitions

Key concepts are concisely defined to help you understand legal topics quickly.

Statutory Provisions

Statutory provisions are provided side by side with legal concepts to help you swiftly locate the relevant legislation.

Case Summaries

We have summarised important cases for you so that you don't need to read long and boring cases.

Rules and Exceptions

Rules and exceptions are clearly listed so that you know when a rule applies and when it doesn't.


Legal terms and key concepts are explained at the beginning of each chapter to help you learn efficiently.

Case Law

Case law is provided side by side with legal concepts so that you know how legal principles and precedents were established.

Law Essay Guide

You will learn essential law exam skills and essay writing techniques that are not taught in class.

Problem Question Guide

We will show you how to answer problem questions step by step to achieve first-class results.

Structured Explanations

Complex legal concepts are broken down into concise and digestible bullet point explanations.

Legal Research

You will learn legal research techniques with our study guide and become a proficient legal researcher.


All essential concepts, principles, and case law are included so that you can answer exam questions quickly.