When the law fails and no new loopholes can be found, can a gentleman’s agreement between the two biggest rivals in the industry save comics?
Disney’s most beloved mascot Mickey Mouse is due to go into Public Domain in 2023.
Just imagine it:
Every Single Theme Park around the world, overnight, will be legally allowed to have their own Mickey Mouse Mascot!
Now a lot of you mathematicians out there are probably doing the equations as we speak and coming to the conclusion that Mickey: Disney’s no.1 rodent, should actually already be in the Public Domain.
And you know what, you’re not wrong…
Disney has done a remarkable job in changing the law over the last few decades. So much so that, in 2019, all works from 1923 became part of the Public Domain.
Let me pause there just so we can think on that above sentence for a minute…
You see, what made this so special is that this hadn’t happened for over 20yrs! That’s right! For over 20yrs, nothing new had entered the Public Domain thanks to Disney.
Now, you’d be correct in assuming that items would enter the public domain on a yearly basis, but Disney and their Smart and Powerful Lawyers had put a stop to it all!
In 1998, works from 1922 were about to enter the public domain. This concerned the likes of Disney.
Disney feared that they would soon lose control over some of their most beloved and profitable characters, most notably Mickey Mouse, and decided to take action. They decided to lean upon the Sonny Bono Copyright Term Extension Act and had the law changed in their favour.
In court, they successfully changed the Copyright Act of 1976 to be the life of the author plus 75yrs. (This was previously 56yrs.) Therefore, giving themselves around 20yrs to play with short term and hopefully come up with a new rescue plan.
Works of a Corporate Authorship were also amended in their favour and would from then be extended to 120yrs. Works before 1978 would be 95yrs from the first publication.
This, of course, not only protected their beloved Mickey but also every other IP they have since created.
Running out of time…
Fast forward, and we are now drawing scarily close to the end of this twenty-year window that Disney was able to create. The window that ends with Mickey now supposedly entering the Public Domain in 2023.
Can the Disney lawyers find another loophole? I’m sure everyone is hoping they can, and I’m sure they will. After all, if Mickey goes, so too do all the other IPs by their rival companies.
So, if the worst was to happen, what could these Media Giants do?
Will we fans just simply begin to see unofficial Superheroes such as Superman and Batman cross over into Marvel? Will Mickey Mouse suddenly have a run-in with Elmer Fudd? All this and more can surely happen when the time comes…
Superman, Batman, and Wonder Woman made their first published appearances in 1938, 1939, and 1941, respectively. Therefore: Superman would enter the public domain on Jan. 1, 2034.
What if both parties (Marvel and DC) can come to a New Legal Agreement not to use (and in turn ruin) each other’s beloved characters. Granted, this wouldn’t stop smaller companies within the industry from doing as they please, with the now free-to-use IPs, but at least it will set up a new process for protecting characters across big-name household brands in the future.