The public domain is, broadly speaking, a good thing for both consumers and creators, although the creators of the original work passing into the public domain might feel differently were they still alive to put up a fuss. Regardless, it’s useful to have works that become available for smart folks to offer their own take and interpretation. And it’s the law as written, so like it or not artists have to accept that their art will one day be made available to the public to do with as they please.
Disney, however, may be powerful and influential enough that the laws can simply be rewritten to suit their ends. Faced with the possibility of having Steamboat Willie and thus Mickey Mouse enter the public domain, Disney lobbied for a passage of a law that extended the copyright term to the life of the author plus seventy years, as opposed to the fifty years it’d been previously, or ninety-five years after publication. With the benefit of hindsight it seems like kicking the can down the road, but to be fair, it’s undoubtedly been a profitable road, and one that Disney probably assumed it could simply extend again.
But barring another extension, the copyright is due to expire in 2024, and one company that has already thumbed its nose at corporate copyrights is looking to do the same to the House of Mouse. The Hollywood Reporter has the story of how MSCHF, the company that made waves earlier this year for its ‘Satan Shoes’ made in collaboration with Lil Nas X that drew the ire of NIke, has created a token for its ‘X Famous Mouse’ Project.
The idea behind the project is thus: the token grants its purchaser the right to a collectible vinyl figure depicting a certain ‘famous mouse’ which, for legal reasons, won’t be available until January 1, 2024. Although the site is very clear in its disassociation from Disney, it’s pretty clear to anyone who’s been alive and seen, say, Fantasia who the mouse in question is. It’s also made clear in MSCHF’s manifesto that this project is about taking on Disney’s power and fighting for fair use, which, as manifestos go, is one of the more reasonable things you could read.
Given that power, it’s hard to imagine that this particular project is among the major concerns of Disney as they stare down the copyright expiration in a little over two years. Or rather it’s this project and a million others like it: Disney has carefully cultivated its brand, and without copyright as a shield, Mickey can be made to say or do any number of things that might have Walt spinning in his grave. At the very least, Disney won’t be able to profit from each and every instance of Mickey that pops up, which might be even more grating for a conglomerate that has made an art of separating people from their money gladly. Then again, the company of the Magic Kingdom may yet have some magic to prolong its copyright term yet again, so MSCHF and others may need to tread carefully until the copyright clock, like Cinderella’s, strikes midnight.