Mickey Mouse, the pioneer of the motion picture industry and a source of joy for previous generations, has been in the public domain since the beginning of 2024. Just a few days into the new year, it becomes conspicuous that the public will not be as sensitive as Disney about maintaining Mickey’s friendly depiction and imagery.
The Walt Disney Company took many strategic and legal actions, such as lobbying the U.S. Congress to extend the copyright duration for the sake of Mickey Mouse’s rights. The integrity of the character has always been of core importance to Disney as the company is known for taking the matter to court, especially when Mickey’s imagery is on the line.
Even though some depictions of Mickey Mouse were able to get around copyright infringement because U.S. law classifies satirical content as free speech, only a few could dare to take the chance against Disney’s beloved character.
South Park's official clip thumbnail from Season 23 Episode 2 (2019)
While it is relatively common for public domain works to appear in various works, notably in the horror genre, the adaptations generally couldn’t alter the characters’ profound image or establish prominence in a different genre. The horror take on Winnie the Pooh, for example, left the viewers disappointed and the character was not seen in the horror setting more often.
On the other hand, Mickey's entrance into the public domain was long-awaited because of Disney's insistence on Mickey’s copyright protection. Only hours after Mickey entered the public domain, the first trailer for the Mickey Mouse horror game Infestation: Origins was released.
Only two days had passed since the copyright expiry when a video game, another horror title MICKEY'S MOUSE TRAP’s trailer was released.
The upcoming months could be the turning point for the Mickey Mouse that we have always known. Now it is up to the internet whether the bedtime routine of the old generations will be the fodder for the fear-induced insomnia of the next generations.
Regardless, it could be one of the moments in history to witness what the world could become if copyright laws were not so restrictive when it comes to creative freedom.