Elon Musk has reappeared on Twitter, the platform the billionaire CEO of electric-vehicle producer Tesla (TSLA) – Get Tesla Inc. Report uses to weigh in on issues that he considers important and for which he wants to mobilize public support.
One of his favorite subjects is copyrights for original works. In mid-May, the serial entrepreneur took a stand on the debate over protection of authors’ and creators’ rights and the Digital Millennium Copyright Act, which addresses the issues between copyright and the internet.
“Current copyright law in general goes absurdly far beyond protecting the original creator,” Musk tweeted on May 12, commenting on a Slashdot story indicating that Sen. Josh Hawley (R-Missouri) had introduced a bill to strip Walt Disney (DIS) – Get The Walt Disney Company Report of special copyright protections.
Mickey Mouse May Fall Into Public Domain in 2024
He added that: “Overzealous DMCA is a plague on humanity.”
Hawley’s bill reduces the term of protection for original works to a maximum of 56 years. The bill appears designed to punish Disney after the entertainment giant recently took a stand against the “Don’t Say Gay” law in Florida. The change would also be retroactive.
Musk now is rejoicing that Disney is about to lose exclusivity on one of its main characters: Mickey Mouse. Commenting on a recent post saying that the famous mouse will soon fall into the public domain, the richest man in the world on July 5 wrote just these words:
Disney may soon lose the exclusive rights to many characters including Mickey Mouse, who is the brand’s mascot. Indeed, Mickey Mouse is set to fall into the public domain in 2024, almost 95 years after its creation.
The expiration date of exclusivity on an original artistic work is 95 years, but Disney may apply to extend its exclusivity further, experts say.
The company did not respond to a request for comment.
Copyright and Providers of Online Services
When Mickey Mouse appeared on Oct. 1, 1928, the expiration period for intellectual property rights in original artwork was 56 years. But the Copyright Act of 1976 extended these protections to 75 years. In 1998, Disney lobbied hard and got an extension to 95 years.
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Once Mickey Mouse drops into the public domain, anyone can use the character without having to pay royalties or ask Disney for permission.
Disney has already lost exclusive rights to certain characters: Winnie the Pooh, the adorable yellow bear who craves honey and loves his friends, fell into the public domain in January.
Mickey Mouse was created by Ub Iwerks, after Walt Disney had to cede his first character, Oswald the Lucky Rabbit, to his producer Charles Mintz. Mickey represents an anthropomorphic mouse, hero, and emblem of Walt Disney Co.
If he remained a hero throughout his cinematographic, television, literary and videogame career, Mickey clearly evolved from his first years. His personality became more positive and honorable and less dark. When he became the mascot of the Walt Disney company, he embodied the optimistic spirit of its creator and alter ego, Walt Disney.
Why Does Elon Musk Care?
While Elon Musk has no direct interest in Mickey Mouse, the question of exclusive rights concerns him because it also closely affects the use of original works on internet platforms. Musk has proposed to acquire the microblogging platform Twitter (TWTR) – Get Twitter Inc. Report for $44 billion.
There is, however, an important distinction between copyright and the Digital Millennium Copyright Act.
The DMCA extends a safe harbor to providers of online services or network access.
For example, let’s say a user uploads a copyrighted video to YouTube, places a copyrighted file in Dropbox and shares links publicly, or simply puts up a copyright-infringing website with a web-hosting provider.
Under DMCA, the service provider — YouTube, Dropbox or the web host– is exempt from any responsibility. In other words, the DMCA protects websites like YouTube, preventing them from being sued simply for hosting copyrighted content uploaded by a user.
The DMCA also enables anyone to file a notice with a service provider, asking it to remove content if it infringes the filer’s copyright. If the service doesn’t promptly remove the content, it may be liable for damages in litigation.
If the billionaire finalizes the acquisition of Twitter, he as the new owner will have to comply with this law.