Beloved Disney character Mickey Mouse is about to enter the public domain, in his original form, as his first appearance on screen alongside his girlfriend Minnie in the 1928 short “Steamboat Willie” will become available for public use in 2024.
“Steamboat Willie” was directed by Walt Disney and Ub Iwerks and features Mickey captaining a boat and making musical instruments out of other animals. It was among the first cartoons to audio-visual sync with Mickey whistling the 1910 tune “Steamboat Bill.”
Come the new year, artists will be able to make use of the character, albeit with major limitations, as only the silent boat captain will be available to the public.
Disney clarified that “More modern versions of Mickey will remain unaffected by the expiration of the Steamboat Willie copyright, and Mickey will continue to play a leading role as a global ambassador for the Walt Disney Company in our storytelling, theme park attractions, and merchandise.”
The company will continue to hold a trademark on Mickey as a mascot and brand identifier. Disney also mentioned that it “will work to safeguard against consumer confusion caused by unauthorized uses of Mickey and our other iconic characters.”
A Disney spokesperson told The Associated Press that “Ever since Mickey Mouse’s first appearance in the 1928 short film Steamboat Willie, people have associated the character with Disney’s stories, experiences, and authentic products, [and] that will not change when the copyright in the Steamboat Willie film expires.”
The character will be the first of several, in books and films, to be freed of copyright in 2024.
Beloved sidekick, Tigger, will be joining his pal Winnie the Pooh (who lost his trademark two years ago) in the public domain as The House at Pooh Corner, the book where the bouncing tiger made his debut, will turn 96 next year.
Other works about to become public domain are Virginia Woolf’s novel “Orlando”, Charlie Chaplin’s film “Circus,” and Eugene O’Neill’s play “Long Day’s Journey into Night.”