Disney’s early Mickey Mouse is untrapped from copyright

Together with

The Future. Steamboat Willie, a rambunctious, voiceless early version of the world-famous Mickey Mouse, is shaping up to be the first meme of 2024 after entering the public domain on January 1st. While the flood of Disney-skewing projects may light up the internet, the vast majority may be little more than a flash in the pan — an anti-climactic end to Disney’s decades-long copyright war.

Mice infestation
Steamboat Willie — introduced in 1928 in the black-and-white animated short of the same name — is suddenly everywhere.

  • Within days of his entrance into the public domain, two Willie-inspired movie trailers dropped (a slasher titled Mickey’s Mouse Trap and a second untitled horror film), while a video game titled Infestation 88 was also announced.
  • People have plastered Willie all over social media, touting everything from workers rights to NFTs to JFK assassination conspiracy theories.

The flood of content shows that there’s a collective excitement to get weird with Willie, who was supposed to go into the public domain in 1984 but was extended multiple times due to lobbying from the Mouse House. After so many years, playing with such a high-profile character feels ripe for 15 seconds of fame (like with the horror comedy Winnie the Pooh: Blood and Honey).

That’s not to say that people can do whatever they want with Willie — the Mickey and Minnie Mouse names and some specific images from the short are trademarked, which last forever.

David Vendrell

Born and raised a stone’s-throw away from the Everglades, David left the Florida swamp for the California desert. Over-caffeinated, he stares at his computer too long either writing the TFP newsletter or screenplays. He is repped by Anonymous Content.


No design skills needed! 🪄✨

Canva Pro is the design software that makes design simple, convenient, and reliable. Create what you need in no time! Jam-packed with time-saving tools that make anyone look like a professional designer.

Create amazing content quickly with Canva