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Disney’s Losing the Rights to Mickey Mouse, and That’s Not the Weirdest Part of the Story

steamboat willie
Credit: D23

Disney is set to lose its rights to Mickey Mouse in 2024, and a potential new owner is already lying in wait.

Did you hear it? If you’re totally quiet, you can hear it. It’s the dark, sinister, and maniacal laughter of the villain from any of Disney’s classic feature-length animated films. You hear it now, don’t you?

In news reminiscent of that from early 1928, Disney is set to lose its rights to the beloved Mickey Mouse in 2024, just two short years from now. and the enterprise poised to catch him just as he is loosed from his Disney birthplace is doing so only out of spite–not for the Mouse–but for everything the Mouse represents.

Credit: Walt Disney Animation

A company called MSCHF has launched its own version of Mickey Mouse. And it’s scary. Its version isn’t referred to as Mickey, and the likeness is not quite Mickey’s either. It’s more of a copy and an idea rolled into one.

Fans and non-fans alike are invited to purchase a token that looks like a mouse. The so-called “X Famous Mouse” serves as more of a placeholder that can be bought today for $100 and redeemed in 2024 when Disney no longer owns the rights to Mickey. Once redeemed, the owner will receive an actual collectible piece of artwork.

It’s the copyright for Disney’s Steamboat Willie that is set to expire on January 1, 2024. Once the copyright expires, the character of the famous mouse, as he appeared in the animated short, will be part of the public domain. That is unless Disney can pull a fast one as the company did in 1988.

Steamboat Willie

Credit: Walt Disney Animation

Faced with a similar fate in the late 80s, Disney bypassed any potential riff-raff and went straight to the federal government for help, lobbying Congress in an effort to extend its copyright on Mickey. Whether it was Disney’s powerhouse persona or a Congress full of Mickey fans, we aren’t sure. But the lobbying worked, and the copyright was extended.

But, as with all good things, the copyright is coming to an end. The so-called “Mickey Mouse Protection Act,” or, as it is more formally known, the Copyright Term Extension Act, only extended the rights so long, and in 2024, the extension of the protection will be terminated.

MSCHF explains that it feels Disney is a “multinational behemoth, able to change national laws to suit the interests of a cartoon mouse” and that the entertainment giant is also “a massive all-swallowing conglomerate, with a desire for both industry dominance and cultural hegemony.”

The company further says that we must “leap at the chance to take back even the scant morsels available to us; at the slightest chance we must eat them alive.”

So it would seem that MSCHF wants the rights to Mickey, not to continue to see his notoriety blossom and bloom or further his legacy, but rather to mock him and the company he represents for being such a power-hungry “conglomerate.” Got it.

But if Disney did it once, couldn’t they do it again? Couldn’t they lobby Congress or write a letter to the President or pay a hefty sum of money to see that the copyright doesn’t expire? That remains to be seen.

mickey mouse

Credit: Disney

And if Disney is successful in securing some kind of staying power on its Mickey copyright, MSCHF is ready for that too, saying that it will move along with the extension, should one be granted.

Catching the mouse seems to be the name of the game for MSCHF’s CEO, Gabe Whaley, who says his company is making the most of a loophole in the copyright law.

“Famous Mouse is using the idea of conceptual art as a copyright loophole,” he explained. “Copyright is always a game of loopholes.”

A loophole led to the demise of Walt’s beloved Oswald the Lucky Rabbit in early 1928. The long-eared bunny ended up the property of Universal Pictures, thanks to a contract loophole, a sneaky distributor, and some less-than-loyal studio staff members.

Photo Credit: Disney

Could it happen again in 2024? It’s possible.

Whaley explains, “This is a roundabout way to get the mouse out early.”

About Becky Burkett

Becky's from the Lone Star State and has been writing since she was 10 and encountered her first Disney Park when she was 11. It was love at first Main Street Electrical Parade. Joy is blank lined journals, 0.7 mm pens, and all things Walt, Woody and Buzz, PIXAR, Imagineering, Sleeping Beauty (make it blue!), Disney Parks history and EPCOT. At Disney World, you'll find her croonin' with the birdies at the Enchanted Tiki Room or hangin' with Woody and the gang at Toy Story Land. If you can dream, you really can do it!