Here it is, the long awaited sequel to our previous blog post: I know your IP expired last summer.

The previous blog detailed copyright and, in particular, copyright expiry in the UK and in the USA. This is a short continuation of the story.  


Copyright expiry and public domain 

As a quick refresher lets summarize the main points relating to copyright expiry and works in the public domain.  

In the UK:  

  • Copyright protection subsists in “original literary, dramatic, musical, or artistic works”[1] 
  • Copyright protection lasts for the life of the author plus 70 years 
  • Once copyright protection expires, the work becomes part of the public domain. At this point any person is free to do any of the acts that were originally the exclusive rights of the copyright owner[2] – including adaptations.  

In the USA:  

  • The rules around copyright protection in the USA[3] are very similar to those in the UK but with some difference.  
  • For all works created after the 1st January 1978 then copyright expiry and public domain rules are the same as the UK.  
  • For works created before that date there are a number of rules (see the useful tables here[4]) 

Announcement of works in the public domain 

On the 1st of January each year an announcement is made as to the works that have now entered into the public domain[5]. As discussed in the previous blog post, the first Winnie-the-Pooh book entered the public domain in the USA on the 1st of January 2022. 

Well now another childhood icon is part of the public domain!! (sort of)  

As of the 1st of January 2024, the films Steamboat Willie[6] and Plane Crazy (the silent version)[7] entered the public domain. These are films directed by Walt Disney and Ub Iwerks and the films are considered to be the first acting debut of Mickey and Minnie Mouse! This means that the original artistic renditions of Mickey and Minnie Mouse are free to use in the US. Any later or modern versions of Mickey (and Minnie) including those that are in colour or have the iconic Mickey Mouse gloves are not in the public domain and are not free to use[8] 

According to this article[9], there has already been a trailer released for a horror film featuring the original 1928 Mickey as well as a video game. OG Mickey has also been turned into NFTs!  

So keep an eye out for more adaptations using the Steamboat Willie version of Mickey Mouse! 

-By Dr Frederika Phipps