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Disney's Steamboat Willie, Enters Public Domain

Steamboat Willie's debut marks a shift in the legacy of Mickey Mouse.

By Inc.Arabia Staff
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An early Walt Disney movie featuring the debut of Mickey Mouse entered the public domain on 1 January, 2024.[1]

The iconic animated short, Steamboat Willie, introduces a version of Mickey Mouse that differs from the beloved character known today. The black-and-white cartoon showcases a more mischievous and rugged Mickey Mouse, with clear influences from the blackface minstrel shows of the era. In contrast to the familiar, friendly demeanor of contemporary Mickey, the early iteration entertains himself by coercing barnyard animals into becoming unwilling musical instruments.

The copyright expiration only allows for the creative reuse of the Mickey Mouse depicted in Steamboat Willie. Subsequent versions, including the character seen in the 1940 movie Fantasia or the Mickey Mouse Clubhouse series that aired on the Disney Channel from 2006 to 2016, remain under copyright protection.

Renowned for its assertive stance on intellectual property matters, The Walt Disney Company has historically pursued legal action to protect its characters. While the company has shifted its focus in recent years towards combating online piracy, the potential value of a 1928 cartoon in 2024 raises questions about the extent to which Disney may choose to enforce its rights.

Interestingly, Steamboat Willie was made available for free on YouTube in 2009, indicating a potential shift in the company's approach to the accessibility of its early content.

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