Every year, a new crop of copyrighted work and intellectual property becomes public domain, freeing it up to be used by anyone. But even more so than usual, this year’s entrants include some of the most famous characters in history, including none other than Mickey Mouse. With a little bit of Mickey coming into the public domain, Disney will lose just a little bit of its all-important image control, but it’s only the earliest version of its mousey mascot that’s becoming fair game.
According to the United States’ somewhat strange copyright laws, works first released in 1928 will enter the public domain this year. Here are the highlights from this year’s public domain class, and a few more intriguing additions:
Mickey and Minnie Mouse
Disney’s mascot is finally coming into the public domain with the 76th anniversary of Steamboat Willie, Mickey and Minnie’s first appearances. After decades of copyright-extending legislation (for which Disney itself had lobbied), the copyright on the earliest appearance of Mickey Mouse is finally ready to expire in 2024, meaning that anyone can use that specific Mickey in their creative work.
But while the copyright expiring is huge news, it doesn’t give the public free rein. The version of the character that enters the public domain is only the one from Steamboat Willie. What exactly constitutes that version of the character versus a more modern one is an issue that will have to be left to Disney’s lawyers and the courts to decide.
While Winnie the Pooh entered the public domain a couple of years ago, not all of his friends in the Hundred Acre Wood are fair game just yet. But now that The House at Pooh Corner (which already sounds like a horror title, frankly) is entering the public domain, so is Tigger, the most famous character introduced in it.
Among the notable but slightly less famous works to enter the public domain in the United States in 2024 are quite a few movies and books; here’s just a small selection.
- The Passion of Joan of Arc, directed by Carl Theodor Dreyer
- Dark Princess by W. E. B. Du Bois
- Lady Chatterley’s Lover by D. H. Lawrence
- Orlando: A Biography by Virginia Woolf