Early Mickey Mouse Cartoon, Steamboat Willie, is Now in the Public Domain, Who’s Next?

The debut cartoon of beloved character Mickey Mouse has just entered the public domain. Starting on January 1st, 2024, the iconic Steamboat Willie short released back in 1928 will have its copyright protections expire. Despite Walt Disney’s attempts to save their company mascot, Mickey Mouse can be used by anyone, with a few catches.

Public Domain Day 2024
Various Other Media Entering the Public Domain in 2024
Image Credit: Duke University’s Center for the Study of the Public Domain

Steamboat Willie Mickey vs. Modern Day Mickey

To be 100% transparent, the lovable red-pants-wearing mouse that we all know so well is not in the public domain. There have been many different iterations of Mickey Mouse throughout the Walt Disney Company’s history. Something similar happened with Winnie the Pooh in January of 2022. The original book written by A. A. Milne entered the Public Domain that year. However, certain Winnie the Pooh characters, and most notably, the classic red shirt look are not yet in free use. This is where there is a lot of confusion, and legal details will matter. In Mickey Mouse’s case, only what’s featured in the Steamboat Willie short can be used by anyone. This means any characters, sounds, and designs that appear such as Minnie Mouse can be used, but someone such as Goofy who didn’t exist yet, can’t. It is important before using anything in the public domain to check what is permitted.

Who Else in the Upcoming Years?

In the not-too-distant future, there will be a time where many other works are entering the Public Domain. Other popular characters that will be joining Mickey and Minnie include Pluto the Dog (in 2025), Donald Duck (in 2029), Superman (in 2033), Batman (in 2034), James Bond (in 2034), several Looney Tunes characters (During the 2030s), and many more cultural icons. It’s an exciting time to see what piece of media can be used by any creator in the world! So whenever there is a new year, please look forward to what you can use freely.

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Image Credit: Collider.com


Does Disney own Winnie the Pooh or is it in the public domain?

Copyright for original Mickey Mouse persona to run out 1 January 2024


After Winnie the Pooh, these other characters will soon enter the public domain

Cover Image:

Formerly Disney, now in Public Domain