Why Is Media Lamenting Disney’s ‘Loss’ Of Copyright Instead Of Celebrating The Public Domain?
from the mouse-party dept
There’s something odd going on in media reporting on the expiration of Disney’s copyright on the initial version of Mickey Mouse that is set to occur in 2024. Given the subject matter, we’ve talked Mickey Mouse quite a bit on this site, specifically noting the “coincidence” of copyright term extensions that have occurred roughly each and every time Disney’s copyright was about to expire. The context in this throat-clearing is, essentially: Mickey Mouse should have been in the public domain years and years ago but isn’t because Congress keeps extending the term so it never occurs.
Well, while some are theorizing that the odd spate of media posts we’re suddenly seeing now about how Mickey’s earliest versions are going into the public domain soon is part of some campaign to extend copyright terms again, there is actually very little evidence for that. But what I found interesting about these stories is how many of them were framed: lamenting the loss of Disney’s copyright instead of celebrating the addition to the public domain. Here is one example, headlined Disney Might Lose Copyright To Mickey Mouse As First Version Of Iconic Character Reached Public Domain In 2024.
First, that headline sucks. Might lose? Will lose, actually, unless Congress quickly extends copyright terms. Second, get a sense of how this is all framed with this quote as an example.
But sadly, the first version is going to enter the public domain very soon. The silver lining is that Disney might still hold on to some rights if they can make a trademark of the first Mickey Mouse version, states a report by Deutsche Welle.
What fresh bullshit is this? Disney got sweetheart deals in the form of extensions in copyright terms over and over again, and now we’re “sad” that those sweetheart deals have run their course? And why is it a silver lining that Disney still gets to control subsequent versions of the character for the extended absurd lengths of time? What is with all the hand-wringing here?
This isn’t the only terrible framing at work here. Other outlets are including input from folks reminding people that Disney still has a trademark on Mickey Mouse and how that will allow the company to still bully and control others’ use of the character.
Meanwhile, Daniel Mayeda from the UCLA School of Law told The Guardian: “You can use the Mickey Mouse character as it was originally created to create your own Mickey Mouse stories or stories with this character. But if you do so in a way that people will think of Disney—which is kind of likely because they have been investing in this character for so long—then in theory, Disney could say you violated my trademark.”
No! That isn’t how this works. Trademark law was not intended as an end-around an expiring copyright term. No amount of investment in Mickey Mouse allows Disney to control the fact that the Steamboat Willie version of Mickey Mouse will be in the public domain. And suggesting otherwise is irresponsible. I have no doubt that Disney will try to do this, but it should fail on the merits.
And the larger point is that all of this worry and dismay over one version of Mickey finally(!) entering into the public domain is absurd. Why is the framing in these posts all about Disney “losing” something rather than the public, literally all of us, gaining something. That’s the entire damned point of the public domain and it seems there are a lot of media outlets out there that can’t grasp the concept.