Steamboat Willie will enter the public domain in the USA in 2024. Does this mean that people in the USA will then be able to reproduce the Mickey Mouse depicted in that film and make derivative works of Mickey Mouse without requiring permission from The Walt Disney Company? Wouldn't Disney be able to use its Mickey Mouse trademarks to stop people from making reproductions or derivative works? If so, what is the significance of the copyright expiry?

1 Answer 1


The Disney corporation still owns the likeness of its characters.

For instance Winnie the pooh entered the public domain in 2022. You cannot use the distinctive likeliness of Winnie in the manner that Disney created but you can now create your own.

Disney winnie

Rhys Waterfield winnie


  • 3
    "Disney ... still owns the likeness of its characters" — All likenesses? Including the specific likeness of Mickey Mouse that appears in Steamboat Willie, even after that film enters the public domain?
    – Flux
    Sep 10, 2022 at 19:40
  • Yes, you are going to have to generate a character that is demonstrably clear unlike the Disney one. Disney plays dirty when it comes to copyright.
    – Neil Meyer
    Sep 10, 2022 at 19:44
  • 2
    Disney does hold a trademark for "Mickey Mouse" as applied to "Presentation of motion picture films" (Ser. 78163587 , Reg 3308015, among others. So your movie pitch for Mickey Mouse: Murder and Mayhem (tagline: "The gloves come off") may run into trouble. By contrast, Disney's trademarks for Winnie the Pooh only cover "animated entertainment for children" and "motion picture films in the nature of adventure and comedy". How shortsighted of them. Sep 10, 2022 at 20:34
  • 2
    Can you explain in what sense Disney "owns the likeness" of the characters, and how you know this? As precisely what form of intellectual property? Copyright, trademark, ??? Sep 10, 2022 at 20:36
  • 4
    "Winnie the Pooh entered the public domain in 2022": no he didn't. Characters are not protected by copyright; only a specific depiction of a character may be protected by copyright. Some words describing Winnie the Pooh or an image of him might have entered the public domain -- neither of which was created by Disney, I might add. Mickey Mouse may still be protected by trademark after 2024, and images of him created subsequent to Steamboat Willie will be protected by copyright, but the images in Steamboat Willie will not be, and trademark protection does not prevent copying.
    – phoog
    Sep 10, 2022 at 20:49

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