CALL US: 206.533.3854
CALL US  206.533.3854
AEON Law logo full color transparent
Robert Frost. By Unknown at the source. - Immediate source: From the Library of Congress., Public Domain,

Many New (Old) Works Entered Public Domain in January

“Mickey Mouse” law ends
copyright protection for
many ‘20’s works

Due to a quirk of US copyright law, an abundance of works published in 1923 finally entered the public domain as of January 1, 2019. Some people are even celebrating “Public Domain Day.”

Until 1998, works published in 1922 and earlier were scheduled to enter the public domain no later than January 1, 1998. However, that year the US Congress amended the US Copyright Act to extend copyright protection for everything then under copyright protection for another 20 years.

The law was known as the Sonny Bono Copyright Term Extension Act, named for the performer-turned-California-Congressman who had been a sponsor of a similar bill and who died nine months before the act became law.

The law is also sometimes derisively called the “Mickey Mouse Protection Act.”

Disney (which owns the character of Mickey Mouse, among other valuable intellectual properties), lobbied for copyright extension for years.

The 1998 change in the law led to a 20-year “dry spell” for new works entering the public domain.

Now, published works from 1924 will become available in 2020, works from 1925 will be available in 2021, etc.

Mickey first appeared in the Disney cartoon Steamboat Willie in 1928. The character will now enter the public domain in 2024.

However, Disney still owns copyrights for later versions of the character, as well as Mickey-related trademarks.

As Ars Technica notes,

The most obvious example here is Mickey’s white gloves. He didn’t wear them in Steamboat Willie. So if you wanted to sell a Mickey toy with white gloves, you’d probably need to wait until 2025, when the copyright for the first Mickey short with white gloves, The Opry House, is scheduled to expire.

Previously unpublished works (such as diaries and letters) whose authors died in 1948 and earlier are also now in the public domain.

Works first published in 1923 and now in the public domain include:

  • Robert Frost’s poem Stopping by the Woods on a Snowy Evening
  • The Prophetby Kahlil Gibran
  • Harold Lloyd’s silent film Safety Last!
  • Whose Body? by Dorothy Sayers

Related Articles

Supreme Court: No Time Limit on Monetary Recovery in Copyright Cases

The US Supreme Court has ruled in favor of Sherman Nealy, a record producer who sued Warner Music for copyright infringement over a 2008 song by ...
Read More

Patent Office Requests Public Comment on AI Prior Art

The US Patent and Trademark Office (USPTO) has published a request for comment (RFC) on “how AI could affect evaluations of how the level of ordinary skills ...
Read More

FTC Bans Employee Non-Compete Agreements

The Federal Trade Commission (FTC) has voted to approve a proposed rule that would ban employers from using non-compete agreements with nearly all employees. The ...
Read More

Let's work together.

Contact us to set up a meeting with an attorney or team member.

Stay Informed

Sign up to receive Patent Poetry—a monthly roundup of key IP issues in our signature haiku format. Four articles (only 68 syllables); zero hassle.



Artificial Intelligence

Blockchain & Cryptocurrency

Computer Technology & Software

Consumer Electronics

Electrical Devices



Mechanical Devices

Consumer & Retail Products

Hardware & Tools

Toys & Games



Chemical Compounds

Digital Health

Healthcare Products



Books & Publications

Brand Creation

Luxury Products

Photography & Video

Product Design