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Is it Time to Include Mickey Mouse in Your Creations and Your E-Commerce Ventures?

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With the expiration of the original Mickey Mouse’s copyright on January 1, 2024, creative avenues open up. However, as e-commerce seller or Amazon seller, can you use Mickey Mouse without restrictions?
While the original Mickey Mouse character has entered the public domain, there are still limitations on what you can do with it. E-commerce sellers and creators must navigate this terrain carefully to ensure compliance with intellectual property laws and avoid legal repercussions in the post-copyright era of Mickey Mouse.

How It Started?

Mickey Mouse, the iconic animated character, made his debut in 1928, brought to life by the creative genius of Walt Disney and Ub Iwerks. Conceived as a cheerful and mischievous anthropomorphic mouse, Mickey quickly captured the hearts of audiences worldwide. His first appearance was in the groundbreaking animated short film “Steamboat Willie,” which marked a significant milestone in the realm of entertainment as the first cartoon to feature synchronized sound in animation. Over the years, Mickey has undergone various transformations, evolving from his early rat-like appearance to the familiar, lovable character recognized today. Mickey Mouse stands as a symbol of Disney’s enduring legacy, holding a cherished position in the hearts of multiple generations. The character encapsulates the magic and imagination synonymous with the Disney universe while also serving as a lucrative asset for the company by generating revenue through the sale of rights to use the character and merchandise.
Now, on January 1, 2024, the original Mickey Mouse is set to enter the public domain, marking a significant milestone in the character’s rich history.

Copyright Basics

Copyrights secure the exclusive rights of creators, protecting their original works such as literature, music, and art. These exclusive rights include the ability to reproduce, distribute, perform, and display the work. They enable creators to control how their creations are used and ensure they receive recognition and financial benefits.
When a creation enters the public domain, it means that its copyright has expired or been waived, allowing the public to freely use, share, and build upon it. Works in the public domain are no longer restricted by copyright law, fostering a rich cultural heritage that can be freely accessed and enjoyed by everyone.

Mickey’s Copyright Aspects

The copyright for Mickey Mouse, originating from Disney’s release of “Steamboat Willie,” was officially registered in 1928. This copyright serves as a safeguard against unauthorized use or duplication of Mickey Mouse’s likeness without Disney’s explicit permission, granting Disney exclusive rights for the duration of the copyright.
The potential expiration of the copyright faced a turning point with evolving copyright laws. Initially, the US 1909 Copyright Act granted a maximum of 56 years of protection, implying that the original Steamboat Willie Mickey Mouse would have lapsed in 1984. However, Disney’s proactive lobbying led to the 1976 Copyright Act, extending protection to 75 years. Subsequently, in 1998, Congress enacted the “Copyright Term Extension Act,” colloquially known as the ‘Mickey Mouse Protection Act,’ which retroactively added 20 more years to existing works, including the original Mickey.
Consequently, instead of expiring in 1984, the copyright for the Mickey in “Steamboat Willie” is slated to conclude on January 1, 2024, and the original Mickey is set to enter the public domain.

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With the impending expiration of the original Mickey Mouse’s copyright, creative avenues open up. However, can you use Mickey Mouse without restrictions? Should Disney be worrying about it?

While the original Mickey Mouse character has entered the public domain, there are still limitations on what you can do with it. Over the years, Disney has strategically modified the Mickey Mouse character, ensuring the character remains fresh and appealing, as well as maintaining a sustained duration of copyright protection. With each rendition, Disney secures a new copyright term, allowing continuous legal safeguarding.
Furthermore, Disney extends its protection beyond copyright by owning trademarks for Mickey Mouse. Those who attempt to replicate and utilize the character in commerce may face liability for trademark infringement once the copyright expires. Trademarks, encompassing words, phrases, symbols, or designs, serve to identify the origin of goods or services, aiding consumers in distinguishing sources.
It should also be kept in mind that in many countries, you can obtain rights with relation to a specific mark based on Common Law Rights, and you don’t have to officially register the mark, especially if you use it. If the Mickey Mouse version from “Steamboat Willie” is seen as a symbol of Disney, it may be considered a trademark. This is especially true once consumers view the symbol as an indicator of the product’s source – Disney. This means people can use the characters, but they should do it in a way that doesn’t make others think it’s directly from Disney.

As an e-commerce seller or artistic creator, am I susceptible to legal action for using Mickey’s character?

Absolutely. If you’re an e-commerce seller seller creating products with Mickey Mouse themes, it’s important to be careful. You need to find the right balance between showing appreciation for Mickey and avoiding any risk of infringement. Disney is very protective of its characters, so you should have a smart plan, making sure to follow the rules about intellectual property. Respecting these rules is crucial to avoid any legal issues.

What can you do to enjoy the entrance to the public domain without infringing on Disney’s rights?

Make sure not to violate Disney’s trademarks.
Restrict your use to the original Mickey, understanding the distinctions between the original and newer versions, including slight differences.
Implement slight modifications, like using alternative colors, but avoid elements from later versions.
Add your creative touches while respecting the foundational traits of the original Mickey Mouse.
Avoid incorporating elements introduced in newer copyrighted versions, such as specific accessories.
Refrain from using Mickey Mouse as a logo or on products, as it might cause confusion and violate trademarks.
Consider including a clear disclaimer in your creative projects, like books or videos, stating no affiliation with Walt Disney, Inc.
Remember, these tips provide general guidance and not legal advice. Consulting with a copyright lawyer is essential before starting any creative project to ensure compliance with intellectual property laws.

Legal Disclaimer: The articles published on our platform are for informational purposes only and do not constitute legal advice in any form. They are not intended to be a substitute for professional legal counsel. For any legal matters, it is essential to consult with us or a qualified attorney who can provide advice tailored to your specific situation. Reliance on any information provided in these articles is solely at your own risk.

Legal Disclaimer: The articles published on our platform are for informational purposes only and do not constitute legal advice in any form. They are not intended to be a substitute for professional legal counsel. For any legal matters, it is essential to consult with us or a qualified attorney who can provide advice tailored to your specific situation. Reliance on any information provided in these articles is solely at your own risk.
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