Mickey Mouse as the Force Behind Disney's Success - Fordham Intellectual Property, Media & Entertainment Law Journal
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Mickey Mouse as the Force Behind Disney’s Success

Mickey Mouse as the Force Behind Disney’s Success

The Walt Disney Company’s new Star Wars: The Force Awakens is nearly inescapable these days. The movie hasn’t even premiered yet ticket pre-sales have already slowed and crashed ticket sites.1 Disney’s stock has also been rising, reflecting its mastery of promoting its movies.2 From releasing a trailer, designing a Star Wars airplane, to even stationing 500 storm troopers at the Great Wall of China, Disney has spared no expense its promotional efforts both in the United States and abroad.3

It’s all part of Disney’s plan. Bob Iger, Disney’s CEO, confirmed, “Everything that we have done to date has been extremely deliberate…Everything is well orchestrated.”4

Something greater is at work here though and it’s not something as visible as the current Star Wars hype.

One of Walt Disney’s most oft-quoted, heartwarming bits of advice is, “I only hope that we don’t lose sight of one thing – that it was all started by a mouse.”5 And it could all end with a mouse too—Mickey Mouse that is.

Mickey Mouse’s career took off in 1928 with “Steamboat Willie,” an instant hit written and animated by Walt Disney himself.6 To expand this success further, Walt Disney created Mickey merchandise and a Mickey Mouse Club, similar to what Disney the company is doing for its new Star Wars movie.7

Since then Mickey Mouse has become a “corporate symbol,” the image people have come to associate with the Walt Disney Company for decades.8 It would be safe to say, “Mickey is Disney.”9 Not only that, but the copyright on Mickey Mouse has earned about $8 billion per year for the company, making him not only Disney’s symbol to the public, but also one of its most valuable assets.10

Behind the scenes, Disney has been working tirelessly for decades to protect Mickey. From what? His fall into the public domain.

In 1998 Disney was just a few years away from losing its copyright ownership of Mickey Mouse, but Disney wasn’t going to have that. It not only created a “Disney Policy Action Committee,” but it contributed hundreds of thousands of dollars to senators’ campaign chests.11 Due to Disney and others lobbying hard, the Copyright Term Extension Act was signed. Disney effectively changed copyright law for Mickey.

The Copyright Term Extension Act of 1998 extended copyright terms in the United States and applied retroactively to works made after 1922.12 Copyright terms were extended for corporate works to ninety-five years from the year of first publication or 120 years from the year of creation, whichever expires first.13

Adding this all up, Disney’s complete hold on Mickey Mouse has been extended until the end of 2023. Until then, Disney has to think of ways to combat the next expiration date.

However, the effect of the copyright law won’t only be felt for Mickey Mouse, but for any copyright Disney currently owns, including that of the newly acquired Star Wars. This means Disney can continue to ride its wave of success on the vast majority of its characters and films for a long time to come. And, as always, we have to remember that it all started with a mouse.

 

 

Image:Meeting Mickey and Minnie” by lorenjavier is licensed under CC BY-NC-ND 2.0.


  1. Rachel Graf, Disney (DIS) Stock Gains, ‘Star Wars’ Excitement Crashes Movie Ticket Sites, TheStreet (Oct. 20, 2015, 01:01 PM), http://www.thestreet.com/story/13331046/1/disney-dis-stock-gains-star-wars-excitement-crashes-movie-ticket-sites.html [http://perma.cc/MZN3-2BZ8].

  2. Rachel Graf, Disney (DIS) Stock Gains, ‘Star Wars’ Excitement Crashes Movie Ticket Sites, TheStreet (Oct. 20, 2015, 01:01 PM), http://www.thestreet.com/story/13331046/1/disney-dis-stock-gains-star-wars-excitement-crashes-movie-ticket-sites.html [http://perma.cc/MZN3-2BZ8].

  3. Nancy Groves, 500 Star Wars stormtroopers march on Great Wall of China in epic Disney event, TheGuardian (Oct. 21, 2015, 23:41), http://www.theguardian.com/film/2015/oct/22/500-star-wars-stormtroopers-march-on-great-wall-of-china-in-epic-disney-event [http://perma.cc/7JSS-9CYS].

  4. Julia Greenberg, Star Wars Ticket Sale Shows Disney Can Do Whatever It Wants, Wired (Oct. 19, 2015, 7:38 PM), http://www.wired.com/2015/10/star-wars-ticket-sale-shows-disney-can-do-whatever-it-wants/ [http://perma.cc/L2X2-VYVV].

  5. It All Started With A . . ., Oh My Disney (Feb. 12, 2013), http://blogs.disney.com/oh-my-disney/2013/02/12/it-all-started-with-a/ [http://perma.cc/SA99-VSDL].

  6. Claire Suddath, A Brief History of Mickey Mouse, Time (Nov. 18, 2008), http://content.time.com/time/arts/article/0,8599,1859935,00.html [http://perma.cc/J4L2-ZND3].

  7. Claire Suddath, A Brief History of Mickey Mouse, Time (Nov. 18, 2008), http://content.time.com/time/arts/article/0,8599,1859935,00.html [http://perma.cc/J4L2-ZND3].

  8. Stephen, Carlisle, Mickey’s Headed to the Public Domain! But Will He Go Quietly?, Nova Southeastern University (Oct. 17, 2014), http://copyright.nova.edu/mickey-public-domain/ [http://perma.cc/87AA-ZLTD].

  9. Stephen, Carlisle, Mickey’s Headed to the Public Domain! But Will He Go Quietly?, Nova Southeastern University (Oct. 17, 2014), http://copyright.nova.edu/mickey-public-domain/ [http://perma.cc/87AA-ZLTD].

  10. Bernaski, Kaitlyn Rose,”Saving Mickey Mouse: The Upcoming Fight for Copyright Term
    Extension in 2018″ (2014). Law School Student Scholarship. Paper 439. http://scholarship.shu.edu/student_scholarship/439 [http://perma.cc/4AHC-FP4X].

  11. Bernaski, Kaitlyn Rose,”Saving Mickey Mouse: The Upcoming Fight for Copyright Term
    Extension in 2018″ (2014). Law School Student Scholarship. Paper 439. http://scholarship.shu.edu/student_scholarship/439 [http://perma.cc/4AHC-FP4X].

  12. Steve Schlackman, How Mickey Mouse Keeps Changing Copyright Law, Art Law Journal (Feb. 15, 2014), http://artlawjournal.com/mickey-mouse-keeps-changing-copyright-law/ [http://perma.cc/NKD4-SH3R].

  13. Steve Schlackman, How Mickey Mouse Keeps Changing Copyright Law, Art Law Journal (Feb. 15, 2014), http://artlawjournal.com/mickey-mouse-keeps-changing-copyright-law/ [http://perma.cc/NKD4-SH3R].

Adela Hurtado

Adela Hurtado juggles photography, traveling, acting, writing, volunteering, and life as a law student. Subjects she nerds out most over are China, Disney, and Virginia Woolf, but she’s open to anything that comes her way.