(UPDATED) When the Copyright Act was first enacted in the United States, the duration only lasted 14 years. Today, copyright duration can last over a century. Why such a drastic change? Some say it is all due to Disney’s copyright of a cute mouse named Mickey. However, it is time for that myth to come to an end.
Copyright Revision Timeline
The first Mickey Mouse cartoon, Steamboat Willy, premiered in 1928, and at that time, the Disney copyright for the infamous mouse lasted only 28 years, although it could be renewed for an additional 28 years. This was already significantly longer than the founders had intended.
Steamboat Willie (1928)
In the Copyright Act of 1790, the initial 14-year term was allowed to be renewed for one additional 14-year term as long as the author or creator was alive at the end of the first 14 years. Registration with the U.S. Copyright Office and use of a copyright notice (© Company Name (1790)) were also required. If you didn’t register with the U.S. Copyright Office or add the copyright notice to the work, it immediately entered into the public domain, so any person or company could use it in any way they wanted without permission from the creator. If Mickey Mouse had been created back then, it wouldn’t have been eligible for copyright protections since copyright was only available for maps, charts, and books.
The Copyright Act of 1831 was the first major revision to U.S. Copyright Law, mainly due to lobbying efforts by American lexicographer Noah Webster. As part of this revision, the copyright duration changed from 14 years to 28 years, with an option to renew the copyright for another 14 years. Additionally. Copyright protection became available for musical compositions (though this protection only extended to reproductions of compositions in printed form; the public performance right was not recognized until later)
The Copyright Act of 1909 was the next major overhaul of copyright protection, signed into law by President Theodore Roosevelt. Under the 1909 Copyright Act, copyright duration remained at 28 years for the initial period, but the extension of the term went from 14 years to 28 years if renewed. More importantly, motion pictures were also given copyright protection. Before the 1909 Act, motion pictures had to register their works as a series of still photographs. When Steamboat Willie was created in 1928, it received 56 years of protection with the renewal.
With these three significant pieces of legislation, Disney had not even existed to take part, or Influence, the minds of the members of Congress. Disney didn’t have to worry about losing its Steamboat Willie Copyright until 1984.
The Disney Copyright myth is based on only two events
As 1984 came closer, though, Disney had to deal with the impending loss of copyright on its mascot, so the company used its lobbying efforts to convince Congress that copyright duration needed to be extended. The subsequent significant revisions came with the Copyright Act of 1976.
While Disney certainly had the power to influence members of Congress, and it is possible, or even likely, that Disney’s lobbying had some effect on the changes made in the 1976 Copyright Act, copyright duration was only a tiny part of the revisions.
Under the 1976 Act, instead of the maximum of 56 years (with extensions) as indicated by the 1909 Copyright Act, authors were granted protection for their life plus an additional 50 years. For works owned by corporations, the 1976 legislation also granted a retroactive extension of 75 years from publication for works published before the new system took effect, pushing the Mickey Mouse copyright protection to 2003.
However, most of the revisions, including duration, were designed to accord with copyright law, practices, and policies adopted by the Berne Convention, the international copyright treaty, which the U.S. had not signed (but was expected to do so shortly after that). The United States signed onto the Berne Convention in 1989, allowing for a smooth transition due to the 1976 changes closely resembling the Berne Convention requirements.
Also, the 1976 Copyright Act revisions codified the concept of fair use, which allowed people to use copyrighted works without permission in some specific cases. They codified the first sale doctrine, which gave Disney and others less control over their copyrights.
Two decades later, as the copyright term for Mickey Mouse was set to expire in 2003, Disney became a strong advocate for the extension of copyright terms. In 1998, the Sonny Bono Copyright Term Extension Act was signed into law, which extended the copyright term for works created by individuals from the life of the author plus 50 years to the life of the author plus 70 years. This act also extended the copyright term for works created by corporations from 75 years to 95 years after creation, giving Mickey Mouse a copyright extension until 2024.
The chart below illustrates the “Mickey Mouse Curve,” showing how copyright duration has changed close to each time the Disney copyright for Mickley Mouse was about to expire.
While it is not accurate to say that the Disney Corporation and Mickey Mouse were solely responsible for these changes, they were undoubtedly a significant driving force behind the push to extend copyright terms. The company argued that the extension was necessary to protect its valuable intellectual property, such as Mickey Mouse, and to allow it to continue to invest in the creation of new works.
Some widely criticized the act as a giveaway to corporations and a threat to the public domain, but it has had a lasting impact on copyright law in the United States. One author noted that we are “the first generation to deny our own culture to ourselves” since “no work created during your lifetime will, without conscious action by its creator, become available for you to build upon.”
Will Copyright Duration Change Again?
Intellectual property assets, like Disney copyrights, are essential assets for the company and should be protected. Still, the power of the Disney lobby has waned over the years, so even if they were intent on using their lobbying efforts to, once again, increase the copyright duration term, it would be a lot more difficult for them. The company is not the powerhouse it once was. The rise of the Internet has changed the political landscape on copyright issues and allowed new media companies like Netflix and Amazon to build out streaming services that rival Disney.
Major lobbying organizations like the Electronic Frontier Foundation or Creative Commons are much larger than in 1998. Internet companies like Google didn’t even exist 20 years ago but have become a powerful force against copyright because their business model requires providing content to the public, such as thumbnails on Google images. Copyright significantly impacts their ability to deliver content, so they have become powerful opponents of expanding copyright protections.
Most importantly, the Internet has provided a greater flow of information, allowing for broad grassroots engagement on copyright issues. A great example was the massive online protests against the Stop Online Piracy Act (SOPA) in 2012. SOPA would have forced Internet Service Providers, like phone and cable companies, to enforce blocklists of sites accused of promoting piracy.
The defeat of SOPA and subsequent protests against congressional overreaches, like net neutrality, has essentially ended efforts to expand copyright protection through legislation. Since 2012, there has been no significant legislation around copyright.
Additionally, conservatives today see Disney aligning heavily with liberal social causes, and with the current polarization in Congress, Republicans are likely to vote against anything Disney lobbyists propose. There would be minimal appetite by Republicans in Congress to reward Disney with a copyright extension.
As it stands, Steamboat Willie will enter the public domain on January 1, 2024. Disney will no longer be able to prevent other artists or companies from using the early likeness of Micky Mouse as he appeared in that short film. However, the current version of Mickey Mouse, as seen in Fantasia (1940), is still protected for another twelve years. The 1940 version of Mickey Mouse is also protected under trademark law, so it is unlikely that we will see the Mickey Mouse that we know and love today enter the public domain any time soon.
Excellent article though I would note two additional things that have made copyright law what it is today.
1. Registration of a work is no longer required.
2. Copyright now covers a large amount of additional “works”.
These two things complicate the effort in securing rights for those that want to use the work. It has also created orphan works that makes use uncertain.
Yes. That is true. There is actually some controversy about whether there is copyright protection for Mickey since some argue that the copyright notice requirements were not proper, and so Steamboat Willie is actually in the Public Domain. That is something only decided in court and not a lot of people would be willing to take on Disney over copyright to their mascot.
Disney submitted a paper copy of Steamboat Willie for those purposes as it was common practice for studios at the time. Today some films have been entirely lost except for their paper copies on file with the government and thus have been restored from the paper back to film. They were either submitted on paper rolls or in sheet format depending on how the studio did it at the time.
Mickey Mouse is conceivably a source identifying trademark of Disney which provides protection in perpetuity. Why the need to keep a copyright?
Trademark protection is based on good and services being used in commerce. It ensures that nobody can use your name or identifying design, such as a mascot for other goods and services. The idea behind that is to make sure that consumers aren’t confused or tricked into buying something that they believe is one company and is actually another. But that won’t always protect your mascot in the same way as a copyright infringement count. It depends on the use of the character.
There is also a question of damages. In copyright, if the work is registered, you can get minimum statutory damages which can sometimes be more lucrative than Trademark infringement damages. There are several other reasons too lengthy for this reply, but one last point is that when you sue, it is always good to have as many attacks as possible. You won’t be victorious on all your counts, or the awards may be dramatically different, and each has different proof requirements etc.
So you don’t want to rely on just trademark as a protection since it may not work in all situations or get you the money that you want for the infringement. Although there is a lot of crossover, not every trademark infringement would be a copyright infringement and vice versa.
I agree that copyrights law needs to be modified; in the other direction. Copyright duration should be made the same as patent duration. 20 years and your work “ceases to have any legal protection.” If somebody dreams up a song or dreams up the transistor or aspirin, the legal protection limits should be the same. The Beatles songs are well past 20 years and would free game for songwriters to build off of today.
As a creator/writer I disagree. I think the European model is fair. Lifetime of the creator plus 50 years. It allows the artist/creator to perpetuate financial remuneration for his/her family or family estate.
I think that is adequate and fair length for the artist (or media company) and for the public.
Fair use is allowed even under current copyright protection, so an artist can make art with Mickey Mouse. (It’s just that Disney is so absurdly aggressive about their copyright/trademark that most artists I assume shy away from playing around with Disney characters, but still fair use is available.)
Imagine you’re a composer/song writer/musician. You’re still alive 20 years after writing a hit song. Or any song. And someone comes along and uses a loop of the opening guitar lick, or they take the key 5 piano chords of the song, and create a whole new song based on your work — and it becomes a hit. Is it fair you get no financial consideration for your work?
It is at least infinitely better than the positively insane idea that it should be illegal make derivatives of something only after the author *dies*, much less 50 years after the fact. Not to mention being against it for 70 years but completely fine with it for 50 is a token show of opposition at best. 20 years may be too short, but it is still preferable to “basically never”.
Star Wars, right now, is very significant in modern culture and has been for a while. The idea that jailing or even fining anyone for making derivative works, even of the original trilogy or , as they used to generally be able to under more permissive holders, for making anything derivative from it other than parody without *disney’s* say-so is silly.
My suggestion would be to let Disney specifically buy their way out. So Mickey stays as their property as long as they keep forking over significant amounts of cash; everything else becomes public domain (unless its owners also buy their way out). Tie the cash to something substantial (like Congressional salaries :), so that not only can Disney not reduce the payment, they are under constant pressure to pay more.
Imperfect? You bet. But substantially better than having copyright just extended indefinitely.
Ideally, we should be shooting for equal protection under the law. Having deep pockets shouldn’t be an advantage over ones creative work.
What I find most ironic about all of this however, is the fact that Disney has conceivably built much of it’s empire based on intellectual properties in the public domain.
Segar’s Popeye (or Thimble Theater) also has a unique situation born from this.
It doesn’t matter if you create content based on public domain material.
Once you create a distinct execution of an idea, no matter what the source material, it is copyrightable — it will be the artist’s copyright.
It doesn’t matter if Disney used works in the public domain for inspiration.
It all comes down to an original and specific execution of an idea, no matter the source material.
…so Copyright holders should bribe members of Congress to give them & their creations special treatment?
“Imperfect” is an understatement. “Insanely illegal” is the phrase you’re looking for.
Sounds like morphing copyright into patents, paying renewal fees. Interesting idea – flawed, of course, given the purpose of copyright being for economic protection of the creator and an incentive for the arts – but interesting nonetheless!
This is basically what is happening already, isn’t it? Lobby the politicians wallets so a new copyright law is passed extending it well beyond what it should be already.
“What would you do with Steamboat Willie’s Mickey Mouse if it enters the public domain?”
Commercially viable Disney porn.
What would you do with Steamboat Willie’s Mickey Mouse if it enters the public domain?
I would do absolutely nothing.
Sure the original may be out of copyright, but that only applies to the original film. I doubt after 100 years, there is a copy around. All the newer versions will have had colour correction, audio remixing, and encoding for either VHS, DVD, or HD. These activities are copyrighted and you can’t separate the new product from the original. So in reality, Disney and the other film makers already has a perpetual copyright. With the shortened lifetime of current and future recording mediums, Disney et al probably won’t need to extend the copyright duration. They just need to guard the original recordings.
It’s entirely possible to create a derivative work using the character of Mickey Mouse, as depicted in Steamboat Willie, without using the original film or anyone else’s derivative work. For example, I can make “Steamboat Willie Goes to Mars” once the 1928 copyright expires (assuming the Congress isn’t bought off yet again).
Technically, “Plane Crazy” was the first Mickey cartoon. “Steamboat Willie” was just the first one with synchronized music and dialogue.
That’s right! I totally forgot about that.
The copyright for “Steamboat Willy” and for all the original black and white characters that appear in the short has likely expired. Under the 1909 Act, the notice requirements were very strict and Disney failed to follow them. The upshot of that was that the copyright never properly attached. But to fully test it, someone is going to have to produce a work with the original Mickey Mouse, get sued by Disney, and slog it out i the courts. (A law review article was published on the subject a number of years ago. See, Hedenkamp, Douglas A. “Free Mickey Mouse: Copyright Notice, Derivative Works, and the Copyright Act of 1909 (Spring, 2003)”. Virginia Sports & Entertainment Law Journal (2))
It’s ironic how much of Disney’s success comes from using public domain characters.
You’re not the only one to have noticed that irony.
Correction: ” With the impending loss of copyright on it’s mascot”: it’s should be its. I was going to recommend this to students but the error makes me reluctant to do so. Can it be edited?
Are you kidding? Come on. There are so many misuses of that contraction. You’re being a little ridiculous. Simply add (sic) and be done with it!
United States Constitution, Article 1, Section 8, duties of Congress: “To promote the Progress of Science and useful Arts, by securing for limited Times to Authors and Inventors the exclusive Right to their respective Writings and Discoveries;” What part of “limited” does Congress not understand?
Oh yeah, their income. It’s TOO limited.
Prediction: Disney will buy out Congress, and extend the unconstitutional limits of the copyright law, yet again.
Another prediction: People will more and more ignore the copyright law until it becomes a “wild west”. Because, the harsher the law, the more incentive to break or ignore it.
I agree with you!!!
I hate to break this to you, but it seems to be you who doesn’t understand “limited”. It carries no intrinsic value. It’s not a number. Anything that’s not “infinite” is, by definition, “limited”.
They can extend it to 3,000 years, and, by definition, it’s still a limited amount of time.
Just because you think you can arbitrarily decide what constitutes “limited” and then accuse others of breaking the law for violating your definition doesn’t mean that they’re actually breaking the law or that your definition holds water.
I was going to say the same thing! Excellent point!
You can’t read “limited” in isolation. It’s explicitly connected to “Authors and Inventors.” In context, the original intent was that copyright protection would not extend beyond the life of the creator.
Unless you can point me toward the USSC ruling saying that, I have to disagree.
If they wanted to say “for the lifetime of the artist or inventor”, they would’ve. Instead, they used the arbitrary “limited” with no further caveats–leaving me to believe that, like most other Constitutional issues, the intent was for the Court and Legislature to define the limit.
Yes, however “Authors and Inventors” can now be content-creating corporations such as film and television studios. They explicitly create their contracts with original artists/creators to claim authorship of the material. In feature films, in return for financial compensation, the writer surrenders legal authorship and ownership to the studio. The companies’ argument being that without their enormous financial investment and corporate development there would be no such content created. Which is inarguably true. How many individual artists/writers/directors are going to make a 150 million dollar film on their own? Or make a 7 million dollar television pilot and get a network to put it on the air? (If you want to retain full ownership of a film you need to raise or even better, put up your own money, for say a small film that costs a few hundred thousand or a million. But even then, if you want to get the film distributed or put on air, you’ll have to surrender a major amount of ownership to the distributor.)
This sort of corporate authorship/ownership goes back to the beginning of the film and television industry. Disney worked this way. Ubbe Iwerks was Disney’s partner in spirit, but ultimately, truthfully, an employee of Disney and all his work developing Mickey Mouse for Disney was simply contractual work. He was compensated, but he did not negotiate any ownership (which doesn’t translate to copyright participation, yet ties one financially to the copyright for life).
These days in feature films, writers receive no ownership or copyright participation. It’s a sore spot in the Writers Guild and several suggestions from writers about demanding authorship and copyright participation have been suggested, but never acted upon.
One reason why many feature writers have migrated to television, is the fact that television show creators are actually given an ownership percentage. Which ties one into profit participation for the life of the creator. Of course, not that many shows become profitable. Studios (and to a smaller degree networks) invest so much money to produce television series that even the successful ones are usually running in the red during their original airings. It’s only when a series is successful enough to be sold in syndication that it has a chance to begin to earn actual profits. Still, TV studios and networks are laying out so much money to continue to create new series, that they tend to be very protective of their profits and the creators are often forced to have the studios audited or even sued to attempt to gain their rightful profit participation. BUT — the reality still remains in television that the creator will be given ownership participation. Which is a great thing. I believe, in full fairness, original writers/creators in both film and television should receive not only partial ownership, but also copyright participation. However, given the legal and financial stance of the major content-creating media conglomerates, that is unlikely to happen.
In a previous comment, I make the argument for why these large media companies need and should receive fairly lengthy copyrights. I also make the same argument for individuals, for artists, writers, etc to be given not only lifetime copyrights, but lifetime plus 50 years (European model) for the benefit of the artist’s family or family estate. I think that’s plenty long enough for both individuals and for media companies. Though it’s easy to see why Disney and the other media companies want to extend the copyright length as long as possible.
In my humble opinion, Mickey Mouse should have not received copyright protection in the first place. That is due to the fact that Walt Disney had nothing to do with its creation. He borrowed the original stories of Mickey Mouse from the works of the Persian poet and satirist Ubayd-e Zakani. Zakani, born in the city of Qazvin in 1300 CE, was a satirist as well as a social critics of those in power at his time. His Moush-and-Gorbeh (Mouse and Cat) stories were intended to ridicule the powerful (represented by the cat) who were out to exploit the weak (the mice), but were outsmarted by the mice in every turn.
What you’re describing sounds like “Tom & Jerry”, not any Mickey Mouse cartoon that I’m familiar with (let alone the basis for the character in general).
In fact, if Google is any indication, you’re the only one who believes that Disney’s “Mickey Mouse” stories are close enough to Zakani’s to warrant a lack of Copyright protection.
There are plenty of “Walt Disney didn’t create Mickey Mouse” stories, but yours is the only one I’ve seen crediting Zakani instead.
Mike, that’s not even the issue. Ideas are not protected by copyright, not the expression of ideas. Mickey Mouse drawing are the expression of an idea. Zakani’s character is an idea, with only his works being the expression of an idea. Disney has never reproduced – to my knowledge – the works of Zakani in any form, so any relationship to them are irrelevant in the bestowing of copyright protection.
Well said. Additionally, if people bother to look at the history of Mickey Mouse, they would see that the character originated when Disney lost the rights to his first animated character, Oswald the Lucky Rabbit (created for Disney by his then business partner, Ubbe Iwerks). Disney had lost not only his main character, he lost his entire company to then Universal. Disney desperately needed a new character. Ubbe Iwerks created dozens of different animal characters, but none of them caught DIsney’s imagination. It wasn’t until Iwerks discovered an old drawing by Hugh Harman (a Disney animator from Kansas City who together with Carl “Rudy” Ising and producer Charles Mintz would leave Disney and work for Universal continuing the Oswald character) that showed mice surrounding an image of Disney. Disney took the idea of a mouse character. On a train ride returning from a business meeting, he sketched out the first image of Mickey. He also tried out various names on his wife. She hated his first choice, “Mortimer,” but thought his next suggestion “Mickey” was perfect.
The specific execution of Mickey is the only thing that can be copyrighted, and was extraordinarily close to the image of Oswald. But of course Oswald was a rabbit. Mickey was a mouse. Disney knew there would be no infringement with his previous character. And despite the similarities in the overall look of the two characters, Mickey was distinct enough in execution to be individually copyrighted.
If people want to get into an argument about Disney not really creating Mickey, they usually bring up the fact that Ubbe Iwerks (Disney’s business and artistic partner) was mainly responsible for the execution of Mickey Mouse and deserved at least a partial ownership and copyright. However, in truth, despite Iwerks’ suggestion of a mouse character, as mentioned, it was Disney himself that sketched out the very first image of Mickey. Ubbe then refined the drawing and was responsible for animating the first few Mickey cartoons including “Steamboat Willie.” One can easily make the argument, however, that not only did Disney himself create the original sketch, but also that Iwerks was working under contract to Disney which meant in return for his financial compensation, Iwerks work remained the property of the company. Iwerks did feel after a number of years that he was not fairly or adequately compensated or recognized for his contributions to the Disney company and left to start his own company. https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Ub_Iwerks Though he did later return to Disney in 1940 and finished the rest of his career working at Disney creating novel animation/film processes.
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Very interesting. Reminded me of this talk from Lawrence Lessig: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=xVk77VQuPAY which steps through the radical change to copyright law in the last decades, mostly driven by Disney. I also just came across Disney World’s original real estate shenanigans. “Using a series of separate holding companies (so that nobody would realize that Disney was making a large commercial investment in central Florida), Disney’s representatives began buying up a very large, contiguous property from multiple land-owners. Disney acquired much, much more land than was needed for his immediate purpose (the initial development of the Magic Kingdom). By hiding the real buyer and disguising his intent, Disney way able purchase land much more cheaply than he otherwise would have been able to. Likewise, by building a theme park in the center of the property, he was able to boost the value of all of his surrounding real estate.”
This seems borderline fraudulent. At LEAST unethical. I know (or am realizing) that this happens all the time, but this is an example of the rich having economies of scale capabilities (not to mention access to legal and legislative cover) that ordinary people don’t have. At the very least, shouldn’t one criticize the lack of transparency of acts like this that are essential for free market’s invisible hand?
There is nothing unethical about the practice undertaken here. I think you could more easily argue that it would have been unethical for the sellers to sell the land at inflated prices just because a big business wanted to buy the land and not a number of smaller businesses. No one was coerced into selling (at least not in the recorded details) and each sale would have given both parties equal opportunity to negotiate price.
Steamboat Willie is already in the public domain here in Australia.
Mickey Mouse will just be made into legal cartoon porn lol
Regarding the last paragraph, I am wondering when Disney and other copyright holders will start pushing for another extension. In fact, I stumbled upon this article while trying to find out whether they’ve started yet. An activity I have been partaking in regarding all of this is periodically figuring out how many days until works start entering the public domain again. As of writing this, 1923 will be public domain in 1048 days, counting today. That is all.
How has MGM’s Jerry Mouse not been a copyright infringement on Disney’s Micky Mouse?
Copyright only protects the execution of an idea but not the idea itself. So the character of Micky Mouse, such as the personality traits as well as the physical characteristics such as the ears are copyrightable, but not the idea of the mouse. Jerry is a very different character from Mickey.
Fantastic article Steve…..one thing still not clear can Jerry the mouse be used? Is it in public domain?
The article implies Disney is the driving force behind all these copyright extensions. Has this been established as fact? Are there any other major beneficiaries of these extensions? Does Disney make political contributions? Do those contributions correlate to passage of the copyright extensions?
Not defending Disney. Just wondering.
The information is anecdotal but it is a well-known meme in the industry. Disney does have a large lobbying organization as to do all of the major record labels and movie studios. So Disney is well known as the driving force. Do I have actual evidence, no but there are sources out there much more respectable than myself that also follows this reasoning who may have better evidence. But it also makes sense. But we will have to see what happens in a few years when the copyright is close to ending to see if there are new lobbying efforts.
We can look to Open Secrets website to find that Walt Disney Company has lobbyied on a lot of bills relating to copyright law going back to 1998:
And here is the amount lobbying dollars by year going back to 1998:
1995 is as far back as these websites have history of thanks to Lobbying Disclosure Act of 1995.
I wonder if the constant extension of copyright law is unconstitutional due to the fact that it inhibits free speech and expression. Could there eventually be a supreme Court case on this matter?
It seems unconstitutional, but the Supreme Court has said that the extensions are constitutional. Also, remember that free speech has limitations but it is a constitutional amendment. The Copyright Clause is Article 1 Section 8 so it would be hard to make a free speech argument that the amendment is more important.
Wouldn’t the opposite be correct! The point of a constitutional amendment is to change the contents of the Constituion. Therefore the First Anendment freedom of speech prevails over a limitation on speech in the Constitution.
On another point, the technology of 1790 was such that 14 years of exclusivity was reasonable. Books were high tech, expensive and commerce was slow. From handwritten manuscript to binding, publication would take months; from one coast to the Mississippi could take weeks. Today’s technology has speeded up the life cycle of copyrighted material such that a reasonable period of exclusivity is now much less than 14 years. The law has gone in the wrong direction.
The Sonny Bono congressional extension is corporate overreach. However, I do feel that it’s important to give original creators a solid length of copyright protection. We can argue over the exact length, but content creators (big and small) make their living through selling their work and I think they are entitled to a reasonable length of protection even following their death for the benefit of their families. I believe the European model (lifetime plus 50 years) is reasonable. I also understand the need for content-creating corporations (say like television studios/networks and movie studios) to have lengthy copyright protection — because their business model is to put out enormous amounts of money on content they have no idea will make a return for profit and indeed, the vast majority of content created by studios for film and television fail economically. This means these companies rely on a few major hits. Those hits pay their salaries, but the few hits also pay for the development and production of the majority of content they create that fails to make profit. That means these content creators (networks, studios, etc) need to get the most profit from these hits over time. And they need to be able to build libraries of content that people will continue to come to and pay to experience via subscription or embedded advertising — creating a necessary revenue stream for these corporations. They can’t do that without a fairly lengthy copyright protection. They could never remain in business with a 14 year copyright. You’d see all the major studios and networks disappear or just walk away or produce just a few minor pieces of inexpensive content if we went back to a 14 year copyright. But I also believe the European length is fair and adequate for individuals as well. Creators, writers, artists, photographers, should have a lifetime copyright plus an additional number of years beyond for the benefit of their families or family estates. However, I do believe our current copyright length is unnecessarily too long. I would appeal/petition congress to roll back to the 1976 amendment. Life time plus 50 years. That is fair and adequate to both individual artists and content-creating corporations.
Good, let the current major studios die off if they can’t adapt. You are forgetting one very crucial flaw in your analysis of (what I assume you’re talking about is movies, if I’m wrong so is everything this comment says). The reason so many movies flop and fail, is because they are BAD, not because the creator got unlucky. Take any movie released recently, it was either horrible and bombed, or was horrible and succeeded. Good movies almost don’t exist in this day and age and that is why so many movies fail. Big studios think it is more effective to spend small money on many movies than to spend that money developing and marketing one very good movie.
I took a photo in an antique shop of a variety of Donald Duck figures, etc. I would like to do a painting from the phot. Is that permissible?
Sorry, I missed this one. While this would be normally considered fair use, there might be a trademark issue here, although I am not sure if the characters or aspects of characters have been trademarked. However, as long as you are only making a single work or a small fine art series, then you would be ok. Fine art is generally given a pass, however, if you were to use this image on pillow in Target or something, then you might have some issues.
My son is an artist and loves to do various Mickey Mouse pictures….he is also autistic and needs work that is non traditional. It would be great if he could supplement his income by selling Mickey art without having to go through legal hoops.
If mickey mouse ever entered the public domain i would use him as the logo for the phone/computer that I am trying to build.
You couldn’t as many iconic still images of Mickey are trademarked. But you could create one that resembles the Mickey with your own twist. You can do that even today.
‘since “no work created during your lifetime will, without conscious action by its creator, become available for you to build upon.”’
This is not true. The ‘net abounds with fanfic and fanart.
It’s not available to *make money* on.
Wouldn’t the comment of Steamboat Willie not being copyrighted in Australia be enough to assume that if it did go to court that it would be shown that it wasn’t copyrighted? It wouldn’t be public domain in Australia and not here, would it?
Leave it to the people who revolutionized the concept of motion picture as a tool for creativity and entertainment to be the ones who destroy it as well.
I don’t think it’s fair to continually extend copyright laws, just to keep Mickey out of the public domain. It’s definitely not fair on creative artists who want to use material that is projected to enter the public domain, only to get screwed because copyright’s been extended again. At this rate it’s going to end up at 1,000 years before copyright can expire on anything in the US.
I wouldn’t bother with Mickey if he went into the public domain. I’d just be glad there weren’t any more of these pesky copyright extensions in the US.
I’ve been looking around. One source says that Disney’s track record is to make their moves to extend Mickey’s copyright 7-8 years before it is due to expire. That time is now, but I haven’t found any sign that they are doing so, unless they are keeeping it under wraps or still seeking legal advice. Maybe it’ll be something different this time, such as a compromise. Perhaps they realise that their motions to extend Mickey’s copyright are not good PR. Here’s hoping.
So many popular works around today had to wait for copyrights to expire before they could be produced, e.g. Pineapple Poll had to wait for the copyright on Gilbert & Sullivan to expire. Can you imagine what extended copyright laws would have done to them? They might not even be around!
Off topic: This website is just about unusable on mobile due to the massive Facebook, Twitter and Pinterest logos suspended in mid air on the left side of the screen (invisible tool bar).
How many menu bars do you need, art law journal? How much screen real estate?
Yeah it’s pretty horrid site design…
So does that mean Disney owns the single name of Mickey?
Our high school band is doing a show using Disney songs this year. One of the students drew the Mickey Mouse head outline using the title of the songs for their t-shirts. We have been told we can not use it due to copyright. We were event told we can’t use the word Disney on the shirt. Do you have any suggestions on how we might adapt this to be able to get the kids shirts related to their theme? We are running out of ideas, it is very frustrating.
It’s not that you can’t use it , it’s you can’t use it without the consent of the Walt Disney company so write them a letter telling them what you are planning to hep raise money for your school they may allow you to do it , or not but you won’t know if you don’t ask .
Steamboat will was neither the first Disney animated short nor the first appearance of Mickey Mouse. Please check your sources before spreading the common misconception.
I’m trying to write a story inspirex with medieval fantasy elements. I would love to add King Artur related monsters and characters, but I’m afraid I might get in trouble with some copyright problems. For how much longer are they going to keep this rights? They said 18 years, so it should be 18 YEARS!!! The law is the law! How in the world are they allowed to just pay their problems away? Just let go and learn to lose!
Copyright is for the life of the author plus 70 years or if it is a company then 95 years from publishing. If you want to use monsters and characters from Arthurian legends, you can do so. However, if you are using characters, monsters or if those monsters have certain updated traits form recent stories, then they could be protected. For example, anybody can write a story about a boy wizard but if your boy has a lightning scar on his head, you could be infringing.
King Arthur mythos is centuries old and is thus LONG past the point of public domain. You can do whatever you want with it*.
Clarifying some of Steve’s points: if you use elements from something like Disney’s “Sword in the Stone” that *WEREN’T* in the myth originally, those are probably copyrighted and you’d be in some potential hot water.
Broadly speaking, if two different creators with decent distribution (ie., someone notices their work) include an element, that element is *PROBABLY* public domain or they’d have been smacked by a lawsuit by then. That’s not legally a defensible position, but it at least gives you a good “gut check”. A lot of the properties I work with are based on various myth cycles, our usual process is if you can source it from multiple authors in various mythology books (our internal rule is three sources), then one of our writers can use it. Note that that is Our Internal Policy, not The Law. But it’d be enough of a defensible position in a lawsuit to PROBABLY convince a jury and it at least demonstrates Due Diligence.
A good example would be Cinderella – in broad strokes you can use the story, fairy godmother and pumpkin carriage (most of those occur in the perrault version c.1700s). But if you’ve got mice sewing up her clothes (afaik that only appears in the disney version), you’ll start having issues.
[…] o deputado Sonny Bono (sim, o marido e parceiro da Cher). Mas acabou ficando famoso como Lei de Proteção ao Mickey Mouse – afinal, sem a lei, o rato famoso entraria em domínio público já em 2003. Se a lei não […]
I will extend the duration of Copyright Law. This can be done vy extending the age limit of author +the life of micky mouse