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Copyright Expiration and You: The Journey into the Public Domain

Hero Cat and Steamboat Willie on a boat

In the realm of copyright, time is both friend and foe – a force that shapes the destiny of creative works and the legacy of their creators. The act of copyrighting works, which we briefly summarize in this blog, is something we highly encourage individual artists, photographers, writers, and musicians alike to complete.

In this brief “tour”, we will explore several key aspects in the lifespan of a copyrighted work; from its registration, to its inevitable expiration, and finally into the hands of those with a strong imagination. Joining us on our journey is HeroCat, our resident warrior for creative freedom and justice, who will help guide us as we move forward.

What Does It Mean For a Copyright to Expire?

What better way to begin our expedition, than the very inception of a copyright itself. Once an artist completes the registration of their respective work with the US Copyright Office, they are fully protected up until 70 years from the date the artist dies. This is due greatly in part to the Sonny Bono Copyright Term Extension Act, which granted copyright holders an extension by 20 years.

One prominent supporter for the law to be passed was none other than The Walt Disney Company, with Mickey Mouse being depicted as the figurehead. Now, nearly a century after its creation, “Steamboat Willie” Mickey Mouse has entered the U.S. public domain. He is joined alongside “Steamboat Willie” Minnie Mouse, Peter Pan, and Winnie the Pooh, to name a few.

What Happens Once My Work Enters the Public Domain?

We now move to the next portion of our tour, namely the public domain. Once the artist’s work enters the public domain, no permission is needed for others to copy or derive new works from it. This grants limitless possibilities for any aspiring artist to discover new sources of inspiration, ultimately copyrighting their work and the cycle begins anew!

Disney is no stranger to creating derivative works from classical literature. Some of the more famous examples include The Lion King and Frozen, which were inspired by William Shakespeare and Hans Christian Andersen, respectively. Now with Mickey Mouse entering the fray, this has garnered a mass wave of derivative works that feature the mouse all across the internet, even one including our friend HeroCat.

Hero Cat and Steamboat Willie on a boat
Illustrated by Mia Yara

The ability for derivative works to exist also allows new audiences the opportunity to experience the original work in ways that otherwise would not have been possible. Localizations and general translations promote accessibility and inclusivity, cultural heritage can be preserved and exchanged beyond geographical barriers, and economic growth is stimulated amongst various industries.

What Does This Mean For an Artist Like Me?

As we approach the end of the tour, it’s important to remember that copyright expiration will not take effect until quite some time after your passing. This is why we strongly urge any and all aspiring artists like yourself to reach out to our copyright infringement lawyers and reap the benefits of copyright protection as early as possible; be it enforcing your rights, demonstrating proof of ownership, and/or enabling fair compensation through various channels.

So never fear, for CopyCat Legal is here (to help)! Get in touch with us today, we’re only just a call or click away. Feel safe in knowing that as the sands of time keep flowing, HeroCat will fight to protect your copyrighted work in full effect. And with that we end our little journey, we hope you enjoyed it, and we look forward to being your new intellectual property attorney!

By: Sebastian Noguera

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