Disney Backs Down, Admits It No Longer Owns Mickey Mouse

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Bob Iger in front of Mickey Mouse in 'Steamboat Willie'

Credit: Thomas Hawk via Flickr, Inside the Magic

The Walt Disney Company has finally dropped futile copyright claims over its mascot, Mickey Mouse.

It’s been 95 years since Mickey Mouse made his debut in Steamboat Willie, but Disney isn’t necessarily celebrating the occasion. Due to copyright law, this means the Mickey Mouse short is now in the public domain – essentially giving creators all over the world free reign to do as they wish with the first iteration of Walt Disney’s most valuable creation.

Animation clip of Steamboat Willie
Credit: D23

Despite Disney’s copyright expiring on January 1, 2024, the company has still attempted to control the use of Steamboat Willie footage. Earlier this week, The Walt Disney Company and YouTube automatically filed claims against YouTubers – including Brock Baker and Quinton Kyle Hoover, AKA Quinton Reviews – for doing so, sparking outrage across the internet.

Very frustrating issue on YouTube,” wrote Quinton Reviews on X (formerly known as Twitter). “Despite Steamboat Willie being public domain, Disney is still making copyright claims for the short. Technically the first copy I used was a modern restoration, so I did a test with the copy on Wikipedia to the same effect. @YouTube fix this?”

He later added that “the instant a film becomes public domain, it should be removed from the YouTube copyright library. I should not have to ‘appeal’ to prove something is public domain – it should be against terms of service to send takedowns over public domain material.”

A recent update shows that Disney has officially dropped its copyright claim against Baker. His video, “Steamboat Willie (Brock’s Dub)” – which saw Baker provide comedic voiceovers for the entirety of Steamboat Willie – was demonetized by YouTube shortly after it was uploaded. On January 5, YouTube contacted Baker to inform him that Disney had reviewed the case and “decided to release their copyright claim on [his] YouTube video.”

“I win!” Baker wrote on X.

Hoover responded to Baker’s announcement, claiming that “[his] claims are all still in Escrow – a [ridiculous] status quo.” As he previously explained to Inside the Magic, he is currently disputing three strikes: two for the use of Steamboat Willie, and one automatically filed by Disney’s music division for the short’s soundtrack.

While Disney does manually claim copyright infringement, the majority of strikes occur automatically. Instead, this content is scanned by “Content ID” to check for any material covered by YouTube’s copyrighted content library. That means it can  can quickly remove copyrighted content that may lead to legal issues further down the line.

The opening title of Brock Baker's 'Steamboat Willie' parody
Credit: Brock Baker via YouTube

YouTube previously insisted to Inside the Magic that it does not mediate copyright claims and that final decisions are entirely up to the copyright holder.

Nicole Bell, a global PR representative for YouTube, explained that “it is between the parties involved” and it’s “not up to YouTube to decide who ‘owns the rights’ to content, which is why we give copyright holders tools to make claims and uploaders tools to dispute claims that are made incorrectly.”

Do you think Disney and YouTube are handling copyright claims in the right way? Let us know in the comments!

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