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Mickey Mouse is (Kind of) Free: New Year Brings Public Domain Additions

Source: (public domain)


By Shawn Proctor

Public Domain Day 2024 was a big milestone. The longtime symbol of the tension between copyright and public domain, Mickey Mouse has entered the US public domain. So now creators can write a song about Mickey and Minnie or explore their adventures in novels, movies, and any other form they wish.

“Disney is both an emblem of term extension and its erosion of the public domain, and one of the strongest use-cases in favor of the maintenance of a rich public domain. Mickey is the symbol of both tendencies,” says Jennifer Jenkins, Director, Duke Center for the Study of the Public Domain, in her blog “Mickey, Disney, and the Public Domain: a 95-year Love Triangle.”

But hold on one moment. Before you set your muse loose on those fabulous, famous mice, note that the only version this applies to is the Steamboat Willie and Plane Crazy ones, which are black and white.

Other versions will have to wait, alas.

There is a massive list of novels, films, musicals, and sound recordings that have joined Mickey in the US public domain, and depending on your interests, there’s likely something surprising and exciting to discover. Tigger and Peter Pan? Now available! Works by Robert Frost, Virginia Woolf, Charlie Chaplin, and Buster Keaton, too.

And Batman fans should note The Man Who Laughs, featuring the inspiration for the Joker, is also in the public domain. Batman and Superman won’t join him until 2034 and 2035, respectively.


Shawn Proctor Head shot

Shawn Proctor, MFA, is Communication and Marketing Program Manager at Falvey Library.




Elementary, My Dear Sherlock: A Look at New Works Entering the Public Domain

By Shawn Proctor

While many were celebrating the beginning of a new year on January 1, the day also held another special meaning: Public Domain Day. Note: Falvey has added a host of new materials that have just entered the public domain! Learn more about them here:

Works from 1927, and before, now are available for writers, musicians, and cinephiles to share freely without permission or fees. They can be shown in theaters, added to online databases, and new works based on them created by modern artists.*

This day is not as popular with the rights holders, however, who would like to continue to profit from and control these artworks, well, forever it would seem. For example, Sir Arthur Conan Doyle’s estate has furiously fought to earn money from Sherlock Holmes, despite the fact that the legendary consulting detective has been in the public domain for years.

The final works just entered this year, in fact. But that didn’t stop the estate from trying to legally seek money from even very divergent stories, including the Enola Holmes Netflix series, adapted from the series by Nancy Springer.

And even Disney’s big, white gloves are beginning to slip away from its characters. Last year Winnie-the-Pooh became public domain…and, since, the main character of a horror film and a theme of a cell phone commercial. This year, the last of A.A. Milne’s stories vaulted into the public domain as well, an opening salvo for a showdown years in the making.

Yes…Mickey Mouse, that central figure of Disney’s company, will be US public domain in 2024. Will he finally escape Walt’s vault? And does that mean Mickey will be remixed, revised, and revitalized by new imagineers? Only time will tell.

Selected works that entered the public domain this year, according to the Center for the Study of the Public Domain:

Books: the last of the Sherlock Holmes stories, Death Comes for the Archbishop by Willa Cather, To the Lighthouse by Virginia Woolf, and the first Hardy Boys book The Tower Treasure by Franklin W. Dixon.

Films: Metropolis, the first “talkie” The Jazz Singer, and the first Oscar winner for outstanding picture Wings.

Music: “(I Scream You Scream, We All Scream for) Ice Cream,” “Funny Face” from the musical Funny Face, and “Puttin’ on the Ritz.”

Who knows what new creations these older works might inspire? We’ll have to wait and see!

*Note: I’m not a lawyer and this only applies to US copyright.

Shawn ProctorShawn Proctor is Communication and Marketing Program Manager at Falvey Library.


Friday Outlook: Peeking Into the Clubhouse


“This is my current work area, complete with my three-year-old son in the background. Here he is watching “Mickey Mouse Clubhouse” while nestled in his pillow fort.

“While my weekday view has changed for the time being, his playfulness always makes my day special.”
Roberta Pierce, Access and Collections Coordinator, Falvey Memorial Library

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Last Modified: May 29, 2020

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