Disney Confirmed To Lose Rights to 18 Films in Six Months

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Steamboat Willie and Mickey Mouse

Credit: Disney (Edited by ITM)

Earlier this year, Disney lost the rights to the OG iteration of Mickey Mouse, Steamboat Willie – but that’s just the beginning.

Copyright law is a complicated matter, especially once The Walt Disney Company gets involved. Over the years, Disney has lobbied extensively to extend copyright terms in its favor, with the most recent extension – which set this term at 95 years – being dubbed the “Mickey Mouse Protection Act.”

Steamboat Willie
Credit: Disney

But even Disney can’t extend its copyright forever. On January 1, 2024, Disney’s first Mickey Mouse cartoon, Steamboat Willie (1928), entered the public domain, ultimately opening up the use of the first iteration of Mickey to the public. However, as Disney was quick to clarify, that does not mean that people are free to use Mickey however they desire.

“Ever since Mickey Mouse’s first appearance in the 1928 short film Steamboat Willie, people have associated the character with Disney’s stories, experiences, and authentic products,” a spokesperson told The Associated Press. “That will not change when the copyright in the Steamboat Willie film expires.”

They also clarified that Disney “will, of course, continue to protect [its] rights in the more modern versions of Mickey Mouse and other works that remain subject to copyright.”

The original iteration of both Minnie Mouse and Clarabelle Cow (who was heralded by Disney fans as a “queer icon” last year) joined the public domain at the same time, having also debuted in Steamboat Willie.

Plenty more characters are set to join them in the coming years. With Steamboat Willie kicking off Disney’s animated canon in earnest, we should theoretically see new characters hit the public domain on an annual basis from now as each reaches its 95th anniversary.

A black and white cartoon image shows two retro-style animated mice flying in an old-fashioned airplane. One mouse is piloting while the other is sitting on the edge of the cockpit. The whimsical scene feels like it could be straight out of one of Disney's 18 films, surrounded by puffy clouds.
Credit: Disney

As per The DisInsider, on January 1, 2025, we will see a whopping 18 Disney short films enter the public domain. Copyright is due to expire for the following animated shorts:

  • The Barn Dance
  • Plane Crazy (with sound)
  • The Opry House
  • When the Cat’s Away
  • The Barnyard Battle
  • The Plowboy
  • The Karnival Kid
  • Skeleton Dance
  • Mickey’s Follies
  • El Terrible Toreador
  • Mickey’s Choo-Choo
  • The Jazz Fool
  • Springtime
  • Hell’s Bells
  • Jungle Rythm
  • The Haunted House
  • The Merry Dwarfs
  • Wild Waves

The original version of Plane Crazy hit the public domain in the United States earlier this year. It’s the version with sound – which was only released in March 2029 – that will lose its copyright protection on January 1.

Disney notably restored several of these films last year for Disney+ to celebrate Disney100, including Skeleton Dance, The Barn Dance, and When the Cat’s Away. This sparked concerns among some fans who feel like past Disney restoration projects have scrubbed the original media of its charm or detail, such as the travesty that was the restoration of Cinderella (1950).

What’s your favorite Disney short? Let us know in the comments!

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