27 February 2024

Many would be familiar with Walt Disney Studios (“Disney”) as one of the greatest pioneers of modern animation. From the creative minds of these famed studios has sprung characters that we have all come to know and love - indeed, from the whimsical Mickey Mouse, his beloved dog companion Pluto, and the iconic Disney Princesses, these characters and more have brought audiences of multiple generations through a fantastical universe of movies, theme parks and the like, with Mickey Mouse as its most endearing and emblematic centrepiece.

It is therefore unsurprising that the recent expiration of the Mickey Mouse copyright (more specifically, the expiration of the copyright in the film “Steamboat Willie”, in which Mickey Mouse first made its debut) on 1 January 2024 has generated considerable public interest. While Disney is renowned for its vigorous approach in protecting and enforcing the Mickey Mouse intellectual property, many are understandably wondering if the floodgates have finally been opened for third parties to use the “Steamboat Willie” version of Mickey Mouse, now that it has finally entered the public domain. Disney insists that it will “continue to protect [its] rights in the more modern versions of Mickey Mouse… that remain subject to copyright, and… will work to safeguard against consumer confusion caused by unauthorised uses of Mickey…”. What, then, does this mean for Disney’s future strategy over the protection of copyright in Mickey Mouse?

This article delves into the history and impact of Mickey Mouse on the development of copyright law, and considers whether Disney’s strategy of aggressively protecting the artistic depiction of Mickey Mouse would be feasible, given advancements in modern-day technology and innovation.

To read the article, please click here.