Mickey Mouse Enters the Public Domain
Mickey Mouse has changed a lot since 1928, when he appeared in the movie Steamboat Willie.
For 95 years, Mickey Mouse was owned by only one company—Disney. By law, no one else was allowed to make money selling pictures or movies featuring the famous character. But now that’s changed. Mickey, or at least one version of him, is in the public domain. In other words, he’s basically public property.
To understand what that means, let’s go back to 1928—just over 95 years ago. That year, Walt Disney created Mickey Mouse and made a movie about him called Steamboat Willie. Disney asked the U.S. government to copyright Mickey Mouse, which meant that no one else could copy the character. Anyone who did would be breaking the law. But under U.S. law, some older creative works—including art, books, movies, and fictional characters—can be copyrighted for only 95 years. After that, they enter the public domain, and anyone can copy them. On January 1, 2024, many creative works entered the public domain. Steamboat Willie’s Mickey Mouse was one of them.
Watch a short clip from the 1928 movie Steamboat Willie, starring Mickey Mouse.
Not every version of Mickey Mouse is in the public domain. Mickey has changed a lot over the years. Today’s Mickey Mouse has larger eyes than the original, and he wears gloves. The modern Mickey Mouse is still under copyright.
Now that the 1928 Mickey Mouse is in the public domain, experts say he can appear in books and movies, on T-shirts, and more without permission from the Walt Disney Company.