Original Mickey Mouse 'Steamboat Willie' now in public domain

Steamboat Willie, as well as the silent version of Plane Crazy, both published in 1928, are among a trove of prominent works entering the public domain after hitting the 95-year copyright limit.

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Hannah Nightingale Washington DC
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Early animated Walt Disney movies featuring the first appearances of Mickey Mouse have entered the public domain after nearly a century.

Steamboat Willie, as well as the silent version of Plane Crazy, both published in 1928 by Disney, are among a trove of prominent works entering the public domain after hitting the 95-year copyright limit.

According to The Verge, the public domain version of Mickey Mouse only includes the original, black and white sans-gloves version of the character. All other versions of the mouse, including the 1940 Fantasia redesign more closely resembling the modern-day design of the character, are still under Disney copyright. 

In 1998 the Sonny Bono Copyright Term Extension Act was passed, extending copyright protections for an additional 20 years. The act was dubbed the Mickey Mouse Protection Act as Disney was one of many companies lobbying for an extension on the protections, leading to the limit seen today.

Also entering the public domain is Virginia Woolf’s Orlando, AA Milne’s House at Pooh Corner, in which the character Tigger is introduced, JM Barrie’s play Peter Pan; or, the Boy Who Wouldn’t Grow Up, and the original German composition of Threepenny Opera song "Mack the Knife."

Serving as a preview as to what's in store for the original version of the mouse character, The Washington Post noted that Winnie the Pooh as seen in the AA Milne work released to the public domain in 2021 has been seen in one-off works such as a climate-change Pooh parody showcasing deforestation in the Hundred Acre Wood, as well as 2023 horror film Winnie the Pooh: Blood and Honey.

On January 1, the same day the original Mickey Mouse design entered public domain, Nightmare Forge games announced a new co-op survival horror game featuring Steamboat Willie Mickey as a character.

According to IGN, the developers describe Infestation 88: "In the year 1988, what was thought to be an outbreak of rodents in various locations morphed into something far more sinister." 

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