Mickey Mouse Breaks Free in the World of NFTs
The widely recognized mascot of the Walt Disney Company, Mickey Mouse, has recently created ripples in the world of non-fungible tokens (NFTs) after breaking free from the confines of copyright. The Steamboat Willie version of Mickey Mouse, which was featured in the 1928 short film of the same name, recently entered the public domain, marking a significant milestone in the realm of intellectual property. This event is significant because it signifies the expiration of the copyright that had been in place for almost a century. In the United States, copyright protection is limited to 95 years. As a result, on January 1st, 2024, the Steamboat Willie version of Mickey Mouse became available to the public.
OpenSea Erupts with Vintage Mickey NFT Craze
The OpenSea digital marketplace, which trades in Non-Fungible Tokens (NFTs), has recently experienced a significant increase in trading volume attributed to the “vintage Mickey Mouse” NFT collection. This particular collection, entitled “Steamboat Willie Public Domain 2024,” has taken the top spot in the 24-hour trending list, followed closely by two other collections, “Steamboat Willie” and “Steamboat Willie’s Riverboat,” securing the second and third spots, respectively.
It is worth noting that the 1928 rendition of Mickey Mouse, as depicted in the “Steamboat Willie” version, differs from the contemporary company mascot in several aspects. These differences include Mickey’s appearance without gloves and oversized shoes, as well as his eyes being portrayed as small black ovals without pupils, unlike the current depiction.
In response to this development, a spokesperson for Disney informed CNN that the entertainment giant intends to continue protecting its rights over modern versions of Mickey Mouse and other copyrighted works. The company reiterated its commitment to preventing consumer confusion arising from unauthorized uses of Mickey and other iconic characters.
The spokesperson also stated that the expiration of the Steamboat Willie copyright will not affect more modern versions of Mickey and that the character will continue to play a leading role as a global ambassador for the Walt Disney Company in their storytelling, theme park attractions, and merchandise.
The recent surge in popularity of the non-fungible token (NFT) collection “Steamboat Willie” on OpenSea has raised concerns with regard to the limitations on its usage, given its past copyright affiliation with Disney, which is now in the public domain. According to the insights shared by Harvard Law School professor Rebecca Tushnet, the public domain provides the freedom to reimagine “Steamboat Willie” without any constraints. However, she advises against replicating elements from the contemporary Mickey Mouse, as Disney still holds trademarks on those.
Moreover, Tushnet underscores the importance of creating genuinely original content inspired by “Steamboat Willie” to safeguard against potential copyright infringement claims. In conclusion, while “Steamboat Willie” has garnered significant attention in the realm of NFTs, it is crucial to be mindful of the limitations on its usage and to create truly new content to avoid any legal repercussions.