A bunch of folks have submitted the news that the cartoon character of Popeye is about to go into the public domain in the UK
, and it should be quite interesting to see what happens next, as it will be something of a preview of the eventual Mickey Mouse fight that will be coming. To be honest, I'm surprised that were didn't hear attempts to extend basic copyright protection in the UK to prevent this from happening in the first place, as has happened in the past every time Mickey Mouse is about to fall into the public domain. I guess Disney just has more lobbying clout.
However, what will be most interesting is to see what happens next. Disney was able to continually extend copyright to keep Mickey Mouse out of the public domain for years -- in part because copyright wasn't an issue that the general public cared about or that really impacted them in a noticeable way. Obviously, over the past decade, that's changed quite a bit. Disney must know that it will have an awfully difficult time extending copyright yet again (though, the company will almost certainly try). In the meantime, though, what happens with Popeye in the UK may be a rough guide as to what will happen should Mickey Mouse hit the public domain.
And... the reality is that not very much different might happen.
That's because even though the copyright on the character has fallen into the public domain, the trademark
remains -- and the current holder of the Popeye trademark in the UK, King Features (owned by Hearst), is expected to "protect its brand aggressively." That means people will still be quite limited in how they can use Popeye. If King Features is able to successfully use trademark law to keep Popeye under control, perhaps Disney won't go quite so crazy trying to extend the copyright on Mickey Mouse again... Either way, this little "experiment" will be worth watching.