Mickey & Minnie Mouse enter the public domain – does copyright afford you the protection you need?

‘Steamboat Willie’ a 1928 short film featuring early, non-speaking versions of Mickey & Minnie, are now available to the public in the USA, after Disney’s copyright expired. This means that anyone can now use those versions of Mickey & Minnie Mouse, without permission or cost. No licence is required to use those works. Of course, this does not apply to more modern versions of the cartoons, which remain protected by copyright. However, it serves as a helpful reminder as to the expiry of copyright law, which, in the USA, lasted for 95 years.

In the UK, the length of protection that copyright affords varies depending upon the nature of the work subject to the protection. For example, copyright in images or photographs within the UK subsists for the length of the life of the creator, plus 70 years from the end of the calendar year from the year of their death. However, importantly, copyright protection does not extend indefinitely, and upon expiry of its protected period, any individual or company can then use that copyrighted work, without having to pay any licence fee to the owner.

For anyone considering how best to protect their works, including any associated branding for example, this serves as a good reminder to consider whether there is any alternative means to protection of your valuable ideas, designs and goodwill. Copyright law is just one realm of protection for your valuable intellectual property, and whilst copyright has its limitations, some other forms of protection (for example, trade mark law) can potentially afford indefinite protection, providing certain requirements are maintained.

Intellectual Property is a complex and ever evolving area of law. If you require advice on your ideas, works, designs or inventions and how best to protect your valuable, creative endeavours, please do not hesitate to contact our IP expert, Gabriella Shepherd on 0330 058 5222.

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