Disney Copyright Snafu- Is Mickey Mouse Public Domain?

I have to admit that there’s a certain iron to this that is quite delicious.

After spending years and sacks of money to lobby Congress to continually extend copyright timielimits to protect their greatest asset, Mickey Mouse, the Walt Disney Company may not even have a legal copyright claim to the animated short film that launched the beloved character’s career.

An article in yesterday’s LA Times, outlines the details of how Walt Disney may have not properly noted the needed copyright information on the 1928 cartoon’s title card. As per the Copyright Act of 1909, the law in force at the time of the animated short’s release, the word copyright on a work needed to be “accompanied by the name of the copyright proprietor.” However, an examination of the cartoon’s title card shows three names listed above the copyright, leading some legal scholars to conclude that a reasonable arguement could be made that any of those names could claim the copyright. With Disney’s name actually being the furthest away, their claim could be considered the weakest.

The article goes into greater detail on how this loophole was discovered, about how this has become a bit of a debate in legal academic circles since the late 1990s and how Disney lawyers really aren’t happy that it is being discussed at all.

Additionally, Jerry Beck over at Cartoon Brew points us to two of the scholarly papers discussed in the Times article- by Lauren Vanpelt and Douglas Hedenkamp.

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About Rich Drees 7221 Articles
A film fan since he first saw that Rebel Blockade Runner fleeing the massive Imperial Star Destroyer at the tender age of 8 and a veteran freelance journalist with twenty-five years experience writing about film and pop culture. He is a member of the Philadelphia Film Critics Circle.
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cearta.ie » Oh, delicious irony: Disney might not own copyright in Mickey Mouse!?
January 6, 2009 5:54 pm

[…] a lot online (eg Finance Daily [to which I was directed by Steve; many thanks], AWN, boing boing, filmbuff, techdirt); in classic insider/whistleblower tradition, his main source is indeed a former Disney […]