Wednesday, January 03, 2024

Mickey Mouse and What Is Public Domain?

The cover of "Mickey's Big War," an unlicensed (illegal) Japanese manga from 1934 that is in Ryan Holmberg's collection.


Comics historian, as well as "sometimes agent and editor" Ryan Holmberg, writes on his Instagram:

"Happy new year! As you may know, certain versions of Mickey Mouse went into the public domain as of yesterday, January 1, 2024. Specifically, the first Mickey films, Steamboat Willie and the silent version of Plane Crazy (both 1928), as well as other iterations of the 1928 Mickey from, say, posters and ads. Not having researched the matter closely, I was under the impression that that was all that passed into the public domain, with all other Mickeys having to wait 95 years after their own creation and publication. But I was reading this informative article today by one Jennifer Jenkins, 'Mickey, Disney, and the Public Domain: a 95-year Love Triangle,' on the website of the Center for the Study of the Public Domain at (my next-door neighbor) Duke University, and it seems that much more has been liberated, since not everything about Mickey or his cohort is copyrightable. 

"If I’m not mistaken, I am now free to translate and publish my stash of prewar pirate Mickey manga, as long as I don’t advertise it as a Mickey book in a way that would give the impression that it’s a Disney book, and as long as the content doesn’t infringe upon later official Mickey products. That would eliminate anything modeled on the Gottfredson strips, but presumably those too will start entering public domain in 2026, since his Mickey serial commenced in 1930. Complicating things are the presence of other characters, and not just from the Disney universe. But early versions of Minnie, Clarabelle Cow, and Peg-Leg Pete should also now be in the clear, with Horace Horsecollar joining them next year, along with Fleischer’s Popeye and, in 2026, Betty Boop. Am I thinking what you think I’m thinking? Yes! Above: Mickey’s Big War ミッキーの大奮戦, a Norakuro-esque akahon from 1934. I stopped shopping for Mickey manga years ago, since they got expensive. But this one I was able to pick up for a decent price recently, probably because it’s warped and the cover detached. In my line of work, books are just data for scanning, so good enough for me! If anyone has a deeper understanding of ©Mickey, please share your thoughts. In the meantime, I may email Professor Jenkins to inquire about her office hours."


NPR: 'Steamboat Willie' is now in the public domain. What does that mean for Mickey Mouse?

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