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Mickey Mouse, and Friends, Are Falling Into the Public Domain Soon

Mickey Mouse is running out of protection.

In five years, the world's most famous mouse will lose copyright protection. The famed Disney character will then fall into the public domain.

It's not like Mickey Mouse will die. But little did the hero of "Steamboat Willie" know he would run out of steam.

Copyrights Expired

Steamboat Willie, released in 1928, was a landmark in the history of animation. It was also a celebrated debut for Mickey Mouse.

Walt Disney created the character, and countless others of Disney fame, but copyright is not forever. Mickey, Snow White, and early Looney Tunes characters will also fall into the public domain in the near future.

On New Years Day, it automatically happened to tens of thousands of copyrighted works. It was the end of a copyright extension under the Sonny Bono Copyright Term Extension Act.

Now the copyright curtain has officially dropped for works created in 1923. That means the copyrights have expired for more than 50,000 books, pieces of music, and other creative works.

Copyright Curtain

Next year, it will fall for George Gershwin's "Rhapsody in Blue"; next, F. Scott Fitzgerald's "The Great Gatsby"; then Ernest Hemingway's "The Sun Also Rises."

At the same time, however, the copyright curtain will open in other ways. The unprotected books, movies, and music will be disseminated more freely -- and often literally for free.

Everyone from YouTubers to teachers will be free to reproduce formerly copyrighted works without violating the law. They will have to wait longer for repurposed works, however.

For example, Disney will no doubt enforce copyrights on later iterations of Mickey Mouse because the mouse is still making movies.

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