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Public Domain Day 2024: Beyond Mickey Mouse

Celebrating a New Year and an Open Creative Landscape

On January 1st, as we ring in the New Year, we also mark Public Domain Day, a momentous occasion where numerous cinematic gems, literary masterpieces, and musical treasures transition into the public domain, free for creative exploration.

The Anticipated Mickey Mouse Moment

The spotlight this year is on Mickey Mouse, specifically the iconic Steamboat Willie version, as its copyright expiration has long been anticipated. However, 2024 brings forth a broader spectrum of artistic works stepping into the public domain, meticulously tracked by Jennifer Jenkins, Director of Duke’s Center for the Study of the Public Domain.

Diverse Highlights of Public Domain Day 2024

Among the non-Mickey highlights are classics such as Charlie Chaplin’s “The Circus,” Buster Keaton’s “The Cameraman,” and Carl Theodor Dreyer’s “The Passion of Joan of Arc.” Literary treasures by W.E.B. DuBois, D.H. Lawrence (“Lady Chatterley’s Lover”), and Erich Maria Remarque (“All Quiet on the Western Front”) find a new home in the public domain. Musical compositions by Bessie Smith, Cole Porter, the Marx Brothers, and Bertolt Brecht, including the German version of “The Threepenny Opera’s ‘Mack the Knife,'” also embrace freedom.

A Dive into the Past

Other noteworthy entries include the 1928 play “The Front Page,” Agatha Christie’s Hercule Poirot novel “The Mystery of the Blue Train,” the timeless show tune “Makin’ Whoopee,” and the 1928 film “The Man Who Laughs,” inspiring the iconic Batman villain, the Joker.

A Digital Celebration

In the spirit of Public Domain Day, enthusiasts have already shared “The Man Who Laughs” on YouTube, exemplifying the essence of open creativity.

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Reflecting on Past Public Domain Days

In 2022, A.A. Milne’s “Winnie the Pooh” took centre stage, while 2024 welcomes Tigger, introduced in Milne’s “House at Pooh Corner,” to the realm of fair use. Similarly, J.M. Barrie’s Peter Pan enters the public domain, though the Disney version remains under protection.

An Evolving Legacy: Navigating the Future of Public Domain

As we embrace the wealth of artistic treasures entering the public domain, the legacy of copyright extension takes centre stage. Disney, emblematic of both term extension and public domain erosion, faces a transformative juncture in 2035 with Mickey’s “Fantasia” version. This intricate dance highlights the irony of a company that thrives on creative innovation while shaping copyright laws. Public Domain Day not only ushers in creative freedom but also prompts contemplation on the delicate balance between safeguarding intellectual property and nurturing a rich public domain.

The Unfolding Tale of Creativity and Constraints

Public Domain Day 2024 not only marks a celebration of artistic liberation but also sparks a broader conversation on the intricate relationship between creativity and legal constraints. While the public domain expands its boundaries, the challenges faced by corporations like Disney symbolize the ongoing tug-of-war between intellectual property protection and the democratization of creative expression. As society navigates this delicate balance, each Public Domain Day becomes a milestone in the evolving narrative of how we perceive, protect, and share our cultural heritage.

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The Mickey Mouse Dilemma for Disney

While the Steamboat Willie version of Mickey Mouse is now free for creative use, Disney emphasizes that modern iterations remain under trademark. The real challenge for Disney looms in 2035 when the “Fantasia” version’s 95-year copyright expires, initiating a unique chapter in the Mickey-Disney-public domain relationship.

Disney’s Role in Copyright History

Disney’s historical involvement in extending copyright terms, known as the “Mickey Mouse Protection Act,” presents an ironic backdrop. As the love triangle between Mickey, Disney, and the public domain evolves, 2035 stands as a symbolic moment where this dynamic may find resolution.

A Complex Journey of Copyright Extension

Back in 1990, the Mouse House, alongside singer/Congressman Sonny Bono, played a pivotal role in modern copyright law, advocating for extended rights under the “Mickey Mouse Protection Act.” The journey of copyright extension, marked by pauses and amendments, finally reaches its conclusion.

In the words of Jennifer Jenkins, “Mickey is the symbol of both tendencies. The love triangle between Mickey, Disney, and the public domain is about to evolve, and perhaps even resolve, in real-time.”

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In a fascinating dance of legal intricacies and creative freedom, Public Domain Day 2024 is not just a celebration of artistic liberation but a poignant moment in the ongoing narrative of intellectual property and its intersection with creativity.

From Rolling Stone US, the post “More Than Just Mickey: Chaplin, Peter Pan, ‘Western Front’ Enter Public Domain” was originally published on Rolling Stone India.

From Rolling Stone US.

The post More Than Just Mickey: Chaplin, Peter Pan, ‘Western Front’ Enter Public Domain appeared first on Rolling Stone India.

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