Mickey Mouse, the iconic mascot of the Walt Disney Company, has broken free from the shackles of copyright and made a splash in the world of NFTs.
The earlier version of Mickey – featured in the 1928 short film “Steamboat Willie” – recently entered the public domain, marking a historic moment in the realm of intellectual property. On January 1st, 2024, the Steamboat Willie version of Mickey Mouse became available to the public as its copyright expired after nearly a century. United States law limits copyright protection to 95 years.
OpenSea Erupts with Vintage Mickey NFT Craze
Prominent NFT marketplace OpenSea witnessed a surge in trading volume related to the vintage Mickey Mouse. Topping the 24-hour trending list was the NFT collection titled “Steamboat Willie Public Domain 2024.” Following closely were two more collections, “Steamboat Willie” and “Steamboat Willie’s Riverboat,” securing the second and third spots, respectively.
Distinctions exist between the 1928 rendition of Mickey Mouse and the contemporary company mascot. In the “Steamboat Willie” version, Mickey does not wear the gloves and oversized shoes characteristic of the present-day iteration. Additionally, his eyes are portrayed as small black ovals without pupils, differing from the current depiction.
A Disney spokesperson informed CNN that the entertainment behemoth will continue safeguarding its rights over modern versions of Mickey Mouse and other copyrighted works. The company also highlighted its commitment to preventing consumer confusion arising from unauthorized uses of Mickey and its other iconic characters.
They further added,
“More modern versions of Mickey will remain unaffected by the expiration of the Steamboat Willie copyright, and Mickey will continue to play a leading role as a global ambassador for the Walt Disney Company in our storytelling, theme park attractions, and merchandise.”
While “Steamboat Willie” gains attention among trending NFT collections on OpenSea, there may be limitations on its usage due to its past copyright affiliation with Disney, which is now in the public domain.
According to Harvard Law School professor Rebecca Tushnet, the public domain grants the freedom to reimagine Steamboat Willie without constraints. However, she emphasizes the importance of avoiding the replication of elements from the modern Mickey Mouse, as Disney still holds trademarks on those.
Tushnet also underscored that for protection against copyright infringement claims, it is crucial to create genuinely new content inspired by Steamboat Willie.
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