Minnie Mouse and Copyright Law
Is there anything more boring than Copyright Law? We're about to find out.
Back in 1928 the above picture was the first appearance of Minnie Mouse. Do I remember any memorable cartoons starring Minnie Mouse? I do not. I remember her as one of a stable of forgettable supporting characters in the Disney Universe.
Then why are we here? Because last week Disney made waves with a newly redesigned look for 2022.
(Yes, I know it's a parody photo.)
Now some speculated that the new look had to do with....Redesigned M & M's?
Yeah, I don't buy that, but others do.
And I couldn't get past it. Why all the fuss about a pantsuit? Then I delved into the murky world of Copyright Law.
I also couldn't figure out why Mickey & Minnie hadn't fallen into the realm of Public Domain yet. So I started my journey with Mickey Mouse in Steamboat Willie.
I ask you, the reader, who's in the above GIF? Of course you know that's Mickey Mouse.
Ahhh, but is it?
In 1988, Congress introduced....the Mickey Mouse Protection Act. The act further lengthened the copyright protection term for works created on or after 1st January 1978 until 70 years after the death of the copyright holder and for corporate works to 95 years from the year of first publication or 120 years from the year of creation, whichever expires first. This again prolonged the expiration of Mickey’s copyright and conferred Disney with protection till 2023. - IPLeaders
In that article Disney vs The Public Domain: How Mickey Mouse Keeps Changing its Copyright , the author asks you to look closely at Mickey in 1928. In the GIF above, Mickey's not wearing any gloves. Why is that important? Because Disney could argue that the Steamboat Willie version of Mickey loses its protection in 2023, but not the White Gloved version of Mickey.
Which circles us back around to Minnie Mouse in a pantsuit. Are the corporate overlords at Disney updating her look due to a non-existent outcry about reinforcing gender norms, or because of something a little more greedy?
If Disney slaps a copyright on Pantsuit Minnie, would they control her likeness until 2117? Disney could also do the same thing with Mickey before they lose partial control of his copyright next year.
Even as older versions of the cartoon mice fell into Public Domain, Disney could be using the redesign argument to control Mickey and Minnie in perpetuity. Though it is very clear to you and me that every version is really the same character.
But Disney's streaming platform alone generates over $10 billion a year, you don't think they can afford lawyers to manipulate copyright law.....
You know what? I changed my mind, I'm bored and if I keep going I'm probably just going to get sued anyhow.