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Steamboat Willie, Peter Pan, More Enter Public Domain

Steamboat Willie, Peter Pan, More Enter Public Domain

By Movieguide® Contributor

2024 marks the entrance of many beloved characters, books and movies into the public domain, making them fair game for anyone hoping to use them. 

“We celebrate the emergence of thousands of works into the public domain, where everyone can build on them, remake them, present new versions of them, or use them for education or simply enjoyment,” Jennifer Jenkins, director of Duke’s Center for the Study of the Public Domain, explained

The most prominent character to lose their copyright this year is Disney’s Steamboat Willie, the earliest iteration of Mickey Mouse. All other versions of the character are still protected under copyright. 

“We will, of course, continue to protect our rights in the more modern versions of Mickey Mouse and other works that remain subject to copyright, and we will work to safeguard against consumer confusion caused by unauthorized uses of Mickey and our other iconic characters,” Disney said in a statement last month. 

Peter Pan and WINNIE THE POOH’s Tigger are also now in the public domain, as well as Virginia Woolf’s “Orlando,” Erich Maria Remarque’s “All Quiet on the Western Front” and the song “Mack the Knife,” per Business Insider. 

Now that these works and characters are able to be used by the public, people are already putting together their own spins on them. For example, a director has already shared plans for an upcoming horror movie about Steamboat Willie. 

“Steamboat Willie has brought joy to generations, but beneath that cheerful exterior lies a potential for pure, unhinged terror,” Steven LaMorte, the movie’s director, said in a press release. “It’s a project I’ve been dreaming of, and I can’t wait to unleash this twisted take on this beloved character to the world.” 

Variety reported that in the untitled project, “a sadistic mouse will torment a group of unsuspecting ferry passengers.”

Movieguide® previously reported on what these copyright expirations can mean for beloved works:

Whenever something passes from private ownership to being in the public domain, one of two things may happen:

Possibility 1: The creative minds of other “sub-creators” (J. R. R. Tolkien, “On Fairy-Stories,” p. 23) will take the work of a “sub-creator” who has touched their lives, wrestle with this work, and seek to present it as faithfully as possible.

Possibility 2: The creative minds of other “sub-creators” will take another’s work and reinterpret it falsely, intentionally twisting the meaning of the work, for their own purposes.

The question is: Will the public domain that receives the media gifts scheduled to be given this year be a domain of darkness or light? What will be done with these masterworks as they fall into the hands of present day, postmodern, 2020s culture? Will the creative minds of writers, artists, filmmakers, storytellers, and others tend to faithfully reinterpret these works or will they twist and distort them so that they bear little resemblance to themselves. Will these creative minds use their “sub-creative” powers for good or for evil?