After Mickey Mouse, which characters will enter public domain in the next decade?

Unless changes are made to US copyright law, many fictional stars will be available for all

The debut version of Disney character Mickey Mouse has become public domain. Getty Images
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Mickey Mouse has always been promoted as a character for everyone.

Today it is more true than ever before, as the earliest iteration of the Walt Disney Company mascot entered the public domain in the US, meaning the character could be used in films, video games and other media without permission from its previous copyright holder.

The version in question comes from the 1928 short black and white film Steamboat Willie.

Public domain is a term used for creative works not protected by intellectual property laws.

These rights can be made available through an official waiver or forfeit from the creator, or due to its term expiry as is the case for Mickey.

While various countries have their own legal frameworks, present US regulations for films and books state titles produced before 1978 are copyrighted for 95 years.

With film and comic book production beginning the ascent to their respective golden ages nearly a century ago, we can expect more recognisable characters to become public property in the future.

What could that mean? Well, that is up to the imagination of the rest of us. The famed literary character Winnie the Pooh entered the public domain at the start of 2022, leading to the horror film Winnie the Pooh: Blood and Honey, which proved successful enough to spawn a sequel set for 2024.

The earliest iteration of Mickey Mouse, meanwhile, is part of the upcoming independently produced video game Mouse, also set for release later this year.

Unless there are changes to US regulations, here are some of the figures and titles coming our way.

2026: Pluto and The Maltese Falcon

Pluto is the next Disney character to potentially be made available.

His debut appearance was in the 1930 short film The Chain Gang, in which he plays a hound dog in pursuit of the prison escapee Mickey Mouse.

Also becoming available is the seminal detective novel The Maltese Falcon by Dashiell Hammett, which introduced the world to the iconic detective Sam Spade, most famously played by Humphrey Bogart in the 1941 film adaptation.

2027: Universal's Frankenstein and Dracula

The year will be a boon for horror fans as the early and still iconic film appearances of Frankenstein and Dracula will be on hand courtesy of their respective 1931 films, which could lead to the most famous versions of the characters, played by Boris Karloff and Bela Lugosi respectively, becoming available for use.

2030: Donald Duck

Donald Duck is the next up expected Disney character to enter the public domain, due to his debut appearance in 1934's cartoon The Wise Little Hen.

The cartoon has a memorable passage with Donald dancing to the traditional navy tune The Sailor's Hornpipe.

2033: Daffy Duck

A minimal and slightly scrawny version of Daffy Duck is set to enter the public domain.

The version that will likely come avaiable, much like Mickey Mouse, won't exactly resemble the one we know today, as it comes from his first appearance in the 1937 Looney Tunes-produced short Porky's Duck Hunt.

2034: Superman

The year marks the beginning of what could be a seismic development for the DC brand as a number of its key characters will enter the public domain.

In 2034, it will be Superman who becomes available for use first, having appeared in the self-titled comic book in 1938.

2035: Batman

Batman is the next DC character to potentially enter the public fray, long after his introduction in 1939’s Detective Comics #27.

2037: Wonder Woman

After her debut in 1941's All-Star Comics, the original version of Wonder Woman drawn by Harry G Peter expected to become public domain in 2037.

Updated: January 03, 2024, 7:23 AM