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Steamboat Willie enters public domain, leading to fan creations

On January 1, the first Mickey Mouse cartoon released, titled “Steamboat Willie,’” entered public domain 96 years after it was released. Fan creations have already started circulating.


The public domain allows for copyrighted material to be released to the public, meaning that everyone owns it. That means that the company (in this case Disney), no longer owns the property (in this case “Steamboat Willie”), and anybody can release and distribute it. 


However, it’s not that simple. Mickey Mouse as a character is not in the public domain. All that is in the public domain is the short “Steamboat Willie” and the version of Mickey from “Steamboat Willie.” That is because Disney has copyrighted the different incarnations of Mickey, and as such only the Mickey from “Steamboat Willie” is public domain. 


Immediately after it entered the public domain, uploads and parodies of the cartoon flooded the internet. 


One thing to come out of this is an upcoming game called “Mouse.” The game is a first-person shooter in the cartoon style of “Steamboat Willie.”


When Winnie the Pooh was released into the public domain, a horror movie, “Winnie the Pooh: Blood and Honey” was rushed into production to capitalize on it. Mickey Mouse, like the victims in the movie, will not be spared, as a horror movie, “Mickey’s Mouse Trap,” is already being rushed into mediocrity.     


Alongside big releases, recreations, parodies, and love letters to the iconic cartoon have popped up onto the internet. 


For “Steamboat Willie” to enter the public domain almost 96 years after being released, that is a long time. However, it was actually supposed to enter the public domain a lot earlier. 


The Copyright Term Extension Act, or as it has been lovingly called, “The Mickey Mouse Protection Act,” was an act made to make material stay under its copyright for longer. The act got its title of “The Mickey Mouse Protection Act” due to Disney lobbying for the act.


Disney succeeded, and the act went into effect in 1998. 


People figured that around the time “Steamboat Willie” was set to go into the public domain, Disney would pull some strings to delay it even farther. However, they stayed silent till its release under Disney’s white gloves. 


However, some Youtubers who uploaded the cartoon after it entered public domain claim Disney copyright claimed their videos, before reversing the action.


As the years go on, more and more Disney creations will enter the public domain, allowing fans to produce their spins on iconic creations for years to come. Who knows what fans will be able to create with such characters as “Dumbo” or “Goofy.”

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