Disney’s Mickey Mouse Problem

2024 is a big year in the life of 95 year old Mickey Mouse. Ever since he was a young mouse, his family, in the shape of Disney, has wielded its considerable power to protect his value to the company ($3bn in merchandise sales alone in 2019).  This power extended to successfully lobbying the US government on no less than three occasions to change US copyright laws. When he was born on 1 October 1928, Copyright protection in the US lasted 56 years. When this was close to expiring Disney supported the Copyright Act 1976 which extended the length of Copyright in the US to 75 years. And you’ve guessed it, when Mickey’s copyright was close to expiring in 1998 they further lobbied the government to have protection for Copyright extended to a whopping 95 years.

Despite further lobbying, Disney appears to have now run out of road and is facing up to the fact that, pretty soon Mickey Mouse will be in the public domain and can be ‘owned’ by anyone. In fact, any third party will be able to use the Mickey Mouse character as it was originally created and create their own Mickey Mouse stories or stories with the character.

I imagine, there will be many publishers, film studios and merchandisers rubbing their hands with glee at the prospect however, the right to reproduce this world famous character is not unfettered.

To ensure continued protection Disney has over the years, filed a number of trademarks that protect certain catchphrases and signature outfits worn by Mickey and his mates. So if anyone is considering replicating Mickey, they need to be very careful to ensure that consumers don’t assume the work originated from Disney. If any such confusion arises, you can be sure one of Disney’s vast team of lawyers will come knocking on your door to serve trademark infringement papers and, given the sums at stake they wont be wearing trade mark Disney smiles.

The interesting point here is it’s not only Disney that are affected. Hugely famous books, records, plays and characters will be coming to the end of there copyright life every year and it will be fascinating to see how commercial entities capitalise on this and how the creators (or most likely their estates) fight back.

If you are concerned that a third party might copy your trademark, copyright or patent please do get in touch here and we can advise on the best way forward. Taking out Patent Insurance, Trademark Insurance and/or  Copyright Insurance is an excellent way to mitigate this significant business risk.