Taking the Mickey! Copyright Subsists FOR HOW LONG!?

Monday 17th April 2023

On 1 January 2024, the iconic “Steamboat Willie” version of Mickey Mouse will loses its copyright protection.

The folks at Disney are, no doubt, going to come up with creative ways in which to prevent others from profiting from this event, but for many creators of artistic assets out there, it does raise interesting questions!

What is copyright?

Copyright is the right of the creator or owner of certain “works” to restrict others from copying and/or doing other things to the work. In the U.K. copyright is mainly governed by the Copyright, Designs and Patents Act 1988 and the “work” defined in that act is an original literary, dramatic, musical or artistic work.

How long does it last?

So, an original piece of work has been created – how long can the creator prevent others from profiting? Well, that depends on what they’ve created:

  • literary, dramatic, musical or artistic work: 70 years from the end of the year in which the author dies (if the work was computer-generated, then it’s 50 years).
  • Sound recordings: 50 years from the end of the year in which the recording is made, or if the recording is published within that period, 70 years from the end of the year in which it was published.
  • What about film?: 70 years from the end of the year of the death of the last of (1) the director, (2) the author of the screenplay, (3) the author of the dialogue or (4) the composer of the music created for the film. If none of the people listed can be identified, it’s 70 years from the end of the calendar year in which the film was (1) made or (2) made available to the public.

Can it be extended?

Step forward to November 2050, almost 70 years since the tragic death of John Lennon and any copyright protection available to his original works is about to expire – can the protection be extended?

Under our current regime, and unlike our American cousins, copyright protection cannot be extended. In fact, because Lennon’s work was created prior to 1 August 1989 its protection would have already been extended from 50 years to 70 years due to updates in the law, but currently, there are no mechanisms to extend the protection further.

Copyright is an important protection for those who are creative enough to produce something worth copying. Whilst imitation is the sincerest form of flattery, it will comfort creative minds that their labours of love cannot be exploited, no matter how flattering the imitators think it may be.

If you have any questions on this or any other IP matters, please speak to a member of our team today.