Disney’s New Fight to Retain Rights to Mickey Mouse

steamboat willie mickey mouse disney plus disney100 right expire public domain
Credit: Disney+

The Walt Disney Company has dozens and dozens of characters that are associated with its brand, none more than the iconic Mickey Mouse. As the company mostly celebrates the accolades and happiness that come with a 100-year run, it’s come to light that Disney’s oldest mascot will enter the public domain next year.

In 2024, the oldest iteration of Mickey Mouse will no longer be copyrighted by The Walt Disney Company. 95 years after his first appearance, the star of Steamboat Willie (1928) becomes public. This first hand-drawn version of Mickey Mouse is black and white and wears a tall white cap without his signature white gloves – which evolved later on. Late-night host John Oliver has already joked about stealing the cartoon and renting him out to events.

steamboat willie mickey mouse copy right expire public domain

Credit: Disney+

There’s a legal loophole that could maintain Mickey Mouse as Steamboat Willie under the Disney brand, and it looks like the magical media company is going for it. Basically, they can claim a trademark as inherently associated with their brand to circumvent the expiring copyright. There’s a legal gray area, but Disney has already begun by using Steamboat Willie in attachment to the Walt Disney Animation Studios logo.

Today, in a bundle of announcements from the Annecy Festival, Disney dropped a trailer for a Mickey Mouse short that will premiere July 28 on Disney Plus as a part of the Disney100 celebration. The short is called The Wonderful World of Mickey Mouse: Steamboat Silly.

Check out the trailer here:

Do you see what they did there? First, the trailer is careful to be clear and mark the century long history Mickey Mouse himself has with Disney. Then they say there is only ONE Mickey Mouse, but then Steamboat Willie appears! And they are sure to make it clear that they are one in the same…they’re ALL Mickey.

Not only did they shoehorn Steamboat Willie’s image into the modern and strongly Disney100 branded celebration short, but they have him appear hundreds of times! There’s rows of marching Steamboat Willie Mickey Mouses, and a crowded mob, and a few floating through a musical void? Did you catch that one shot from the original Steamboat Willie cartoon film strip in there? Legal genius.

steamboat willie mickey mouse car crash explosion jump laugh public domain

Credit: Disney+

In the short, the black and white Mickey Mouse characters crash cars, topple light posts, and cause explosions, but the real danger is for anyone who was planning on trying to profit from Steamboat Willie’s move to the public domain.

Watch The Wonderful World of Mickey Mouse: Steamboat Silly on Disney Plus this summer and see for yourself!

About Lana Porter

Lana has never lost a Disney Trivia night. Maybe it’s the hundreds of times she’s been to Walt Disney World Resort in Florida, her love for Disney’s ’90’s era hand-animated musicals, or the fact that she’s often likened to cartoon characters, but Disney and its magic have a special place in her heart. Her favorite Disney experiences include the EPCOT Food and Wine Festival, eating Mickey Bars on the PeopleMover, and crying during the Magic Kingdom fireworks show. One day she hopes to be chosen as the rebel spy on Star Tours. When Lana isn’t Park Hopping, she’s at home reading books of all topics, watching her favs on Disney+, or snuggling her two cats, which she swears are not named after Disney characters. She loves surprising people with her knowledge of the Marvel Cinematic Universe but admits she is still catching up with Star Wars. She is happy to combine her excitement for writing with her love for Disney-style storytelling and share what she can with the world!