Copyright Extensions, Mickey Mouse, Bill Clinton and Pioneering Copyrights?

What do Mickey Mouse and copyrights have in common? Well Walt’s Mickey Mouse is one of the longest running Copyrighted Characters in U.S. history!  Most people have grown up with Mickey Mouse – he’s been around for a long time.  Now, he is in danger of falling into the public domain, where anyone can use him or alter him.  Copyright law, however, might be able to protect him forever.  This is news that has some people excited, but others don’t see the point.

While copyrights may seem to last forever, this was not always the case.  In the early 1900s, copyright protection lasted for 28 years, which was later doubled.  Then, in 1976, Congress changed the law again; protection then lasted for the life of the author plus 50 years.  Today, copyrights last for the life of the author plus 70 years.   After protection ends, the work falls into the public domain, where anyone can use it.

So, what does this mean for Mickey Mouse?  The 1976 change originally made him available to the public domain in 2003, but President Clinton signed an extension of copyright, so he is still protected.  This is a source of constant debate of copyright attorneys, authors, singers, musicians and film makers.  On one hand, if copyright is weakened, then others can use works in the public domain and creativity may actually flourish from the increase in derivative works.  However, it makes sense to protect the hard work of authors like Walt Disney and others that provided so much contribution and enriched our experience and the experience of our kids.

Some believe that copyrights should never expire.  This may make sense for certain types of Works that have been ground breaking and the source of creative inspiration for others.  Perhaps, there should be a pioneering copyright like pioneering patents?  What do you think should there be stronger and extended protection for some copyrighted works over others?

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