Is it possible that Walt Disney could soon lose its exclusive rights to the Mickey Mouse character? Mickey will soon turn 94 – in October – which means that in a little over a year the exclusive copyrights will run out and then anyone will be free to use the character.
Mickey Mouse and Walt Disney go together like America and Apple Pie, Macaroni and Cheese, Coffee and Donuts… Well, you get the picture. So, how could there possibly be a world in which Disney is not the sole owner of the Mickey Mouse character and all of the branding that comes with it?
Walt Disney himself personally created Mickey Mouse on October 1, 1928. On 1 October 2023, Mickey Mouse will celebrate his 95th birthday and, according to copyright laws, he will also become free from Walt Disney’s control. And this had to happen sooner or later.
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Think of all of those famous characters from fiction – the legends of civilization who never really existed. How many times have they made a movie about Robin Hood or King Arthur? Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde or even Dracula? This is because anybody can use these characters since no one individual or company owns them.
But that is not the case for James Bond, Superman, Star Wars characters, and, for now, Mickey Mouse.
However, Daniel Mayeda, the associate director of the Documentary Film Legal Clinic at UCLA School of Law, explained to the Guardian that there will be a number of limitations on the future use of the Mickey Mouse character.
“You can use the Mickey Mouse character as it was originally created to create your own Mickey Mouse stories or stories with this character,” he said. “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.”
But Walt Disney also holds trademarks are a number of things related to Mickey Mouse. And these things the company can keep in perpetuity.
“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.”
So, what does all of this mean to the average person? Well, in a few years anyone will be able to make Mickey Mouse cartoons or sell merchandising or use the name. So, you may soon be able to get a nice Mickey Mouse shirt for cheap.