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Disney's Earliest Version of Mickey Mouse, Steamboat Willie, Is Now in the Public Domain. Here's What That Means. The "Steamboat Willie" copyright was lifted after 95 years under U.S. copyright law.

By Sam Silverman

Opinions expressed by Entrepreneur contributors are their own.

Photo by LMPC via Getty Images
Steamboat Willie, lobbycard, Mickey Mouse, 1928.

The Walt Disney Company no longer has a grasp on all things Mickey Mouse.

The earliest version of the brand's iconic mascot featured in Disney's 1928 short film, "Steamboat Willie" entered the public domain after 95 years under U.S. copyright law.

Although the "Steamboat Willie" Mickey doesn't feature some of the mascot's signature traits we know today, like his gloves and oversized shoes, the release into the public domain will now allow others to "re-envision" the earliest version of the character, per CNN.

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But while the "Steamboat Willie" copyright is now fair use, that doesn't mean all versions of Mickey Mouse are up for grabs.

"More modern versions of Mickey will remain unaffected by the expiration of the Steamboat Willie copyright, and Mickey will continue to play a leading role as a global ambassador for the Walt Disney Company in our storytelling, theme park attractions, and merchandise," a Disney spokesperson said in a statement to CNN.

Additionally, the spokesperson added, that the Walt Disney Company will "continue to protect our rights in the more modern versions of Mickey Mouse and other works that remain subject to copyright, and we will work to safeguard against consumer confusion caused by unauthorized uses of Mickey and our other iconic characters."

RELATED: 'Building Is a Lot More Fun Than Fixing': Here's What Disney CEO Bob Iger Told Employees in a Town Hall Address

Sam Silverman

Content Strategy Editor

Sam Silverman is a content strategy editor at Entrepreneur Media. She specializes in search engine optimization (SEO), and her work can be found in The US Sun, Nicki Swift, In Touch Weekly, Life & Style and Health. She writes for our news team with a focus on investigating scandals. Her coverage and expertise span from business news, entrepreneurship, technology, and true crime, to the latest in entertainment and TV news. Sam is a graduate of Lehigh University and currently resides in NYC. 

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