Mickey Mouse, the version from “Steamboat Willie” (1928), is now free for everyone to use. After 95 years of belonging to Disney, the “Steamboat Willie” Mickey Mouse has entered The Public Domain on January 1, 2024. Now, creators can get creative with this version of Mickey.

Disney’s copyright story

Back in 1928, Walt Disney released “Steamboat Willie,” which marked the debut of Mickey Mouse. Since then, Disney worked hard to keep the copyright for as long as possible, but in January 2024, the copyright expired. This is a big deal because now people can use the early versions of Mickey Mouse without worrying about copyright and Disney coming after them legally.

Creative fun in The Public Domain

As expected, we’re already seeing some upcoming projects using the “Streamboat Willie” Mickey. A trailer for a horror movie called “Mickey’s Mouse Trap” is already out. Another horror movie, directed by Steven LaMorte, is in the works. People should also expect a video games to be released soon too. And that’s just the start of it.

Creators still have to be careful

Even though “Steamboat Willie” Mickey is free to use, Disney is still protecting the newer versions of Mickey, the one with red shorts, a wide grin and big eyes. “We will, of course, continue to protect our rights in the more modern versions of Mickey Mouse and other works that remain subject to copyright,” Disney said in a statement.

Now that Mickey Mouse is in The Public Domain, creators can have fun with the old Mickey. However, it will still be a bit tricky to see how Disney and the courts will distinguish “Steamboat Willie” Mickey and the newer version. YouTube is still copyright claiming reuploads of “Steamboat Willie.” We will have to see how YouTube and Disney navigate the two versions of Mickey.