Intellectual Property Law

New Matter SPRING 2016, Volume 41, Number 1

Letter from the Editor-in-Chief

Thomas A. Ward


Welcome to the spring edition of New Matter for 2016. The cover art of this edition features Disney’s first copyrighted Mickey Mouse. The specific film shown would have gone into the public domain if Congress had not extended the copyright term in the 1998 amendment to the copyright act. With the copyright term extension, the film will go public domain in 2024, less than 10 years from now. But many more recent versions of copyrighted drawings of Mickey Mouse will not go into public domain until well after 2024.

Even when going public domain, since trademarks are obtained by Disney for versions of drawings of Mickey Mouse, the marks may save them from public domain. Tarzan films have been kept from being distributed even though they are public domain because they contain the Trademark Tarzan which has been kept active by the heirs of Edgar Rice Burroughs. The original versions of Winnie the Pooh went into public domain in 2002, but trademarks obtained by Disney for Winnie the Pooh so far have limited distribution. It will be interesting to see what happens as more copyrighted art like the featured cover art of Mickey Mouse go into the public domain.

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