Mickey Mouse is public domain

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As of January 1, 2024, the earliest versions of Mickey Mouse, as depicted in "Steamboat Willie" and a silent version of "Plane Crazy," have entered the public domain in the United States1. This means that the specific portrayals of Mickey Mouse from those works are no longer under copyright protection, and the public is free to use those images and character depictions without needing permission from Disney or paying royalties. However, there are significant limitations to what this means for creators and the public. Disney still holds trademarks on Mickey Mouse, which protect the character's use in commerce, particularly in ways that might cause consumer confusion about the source of products or services25. This means that while the specific early versions of Mickey Mouse are in the public domain, any new works using the character cannot suggest an association with Disney or its products. Furthermore, later versions of Mickey Mouse, such as the Sorcerer's Apprentice from "Fantasia," remain under copyright protection, and Disney continues to hold exclusive rights to these depictions1. Therefore, while the public domain status of the original Mickey Mouse is a significant milestone, it does not grant free rein to use the character in any form or context, especially in ways that infringe on Disney's trademarks or the copyrighted versions of the character that came after "Steamboat Willie" and "Plane Crazy"125.
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