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Disney’s New Copyright: Mickey Mouse’s Color Changing in 2024

Mickey Disney Guests
Credit: Disney

This year, there has been quite a bit of controversy surrounding Disney’s beloved icon and leader, Mickey Mouse.

In a move that’s both bold and reflective of the changing dynamics in copyright laws, The Walt Disney Company is reinventing its most iconic character, Mickey Mouse. This transformation follows the significant milestone of the character’s original incarnation, Steamboat Willie, entering the public domain earlier this year.

Mickey Mouse inside the Disney and Pixar Short Film Festival in EPCOT

Credit: Brittany DiCologero, Inside the Magic

The character of Mickey Mouse, created by Walt Disney and Ub Iwerks, made its debut in the pioneering animated short film Steamboat Willie (1928). Not only was this film one of the first to feature synchronized sound, but it also introduced Mickey Mouse and Minnie Mouse, setting the foundation for what would become a vast empire of entertainment and media.

Over the decades, Mickey Mouse has become synonymous with The Walt Disney Company, symbolizing both innovations in animation and the enduring appeal of a character that has charmed generations.

However, the journey through the halls of copyright law has been fraught with extensions and debates. Initially, copyrights in the U.S. allowed creators exclusive rights to their works for a set period, after which they would enter the public domain.

This system changed significantly in 1998 with the Copyright Term Extension Act, colloquially known as the “Mickey Mouse Protection Act,” which extended copyrights for works created from 1923 to 1977, thereby postponing the public domain status of many works, including Steamboat Willie.

Steamboat Willie

Credit: D23

Despite efforts to prolong protections, Steamboat Willie officially entered the public domain on January 1, 2024. This transition means that the original depiction of Mickey Mouse from this film can now be used freely by the public without the need for copyright clearance from Disney.

This has already sparked a variety of projects, including multiple horror films and a video game featuring the classic Mickey Mouse persona, highlighting the diverse creative directions now possible without legal restrictions.

Reacting to this new era, Disney has clarified that while Steamboat Willie has entered the public domain, subsequent versions of Mickey Mouse and other characters remain under copyright and trademark protections. The company has emphasized its commitment to safeguarding these properties and has expressed a firm stance against unauthorized uses that could confuse consumers or dilute brand integrity.

Mickey Mouse in a hat

Credit: Disney

In a statement released to media outlets, a Disney spokesperson articulated the following earlier this year:

 “More modern versions of Mickey will remain unaffected by the expiration of the Steamboat Willie copyright. 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.”

A new copyright: Mickey Mouse changes in Disney World

In an intriguing twist of brand evolution and perhaps as a nod to the unavoidable public domain status of their mascot’s earliest form, Disney has launched a new merchandise line called “Park and Play.”

This collection introduces a refreshed version of Mickey and Minnie Mouse, where both characters now sport purple colors instead of their traditional black, signifying a new creative direction and perhaps a strategic shift in how Disney intends to manage its most beloved characters under the new legal landscape.

Shelves stocked with plush toys of Minnie Mouse and Mickey Mouse in two different outfits. On the left, Minnie wears a vacation-themed t-shirt, and on the right, she has a red

The change in color is more than just aesthetic; it represents a strategic move by Disney to both retain control over the iconic Mickey Mouse image while also embracing the new possibilities that come with the public domain status of its original version.

Mickey at Disney World in front of Cinderella Castle

Credit: Disney

The purple coloration can be seen as both a forward-looking innovation and a delineation from the past, setting apart the new, copyrighted Mickey from the public domain version.

Since his debut in Steamboat Willie (1928), Mickey has transcended his role as a mere cartoon character to become a symbol of joy, imagination, and the boundless possibilities within animated art. His influence permeates every aspect of Disney, from films and television to theme parks and merchandise, embodying the company’s innovative spirit and its ability to connect with audiences of all ages.

What do you think of this new Mickey Mouse introduction? 

This post Disney’s New Copyright: Mickey Mouse’s Color Changing in 2024 appeared first on Inside the Magic.

About Andrew Boardwine

A frequent visitor of Walt Disney World Resort and Universal Orlando Resort, Andrew will likely be found freefalling on Twilight Zone Tower of Terror or enjoying Pirates of the Caribbean. Over at Universal, he'll be taking in the thrills of the Jurassic World Velocicoaster and Revenge of the Mummy

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