In a digital twist, the early iteration of Walt Disney’s beloved mascot, Mickey Mouse, has taken center stage in the world of Non-Fungible Tokens (NFTs) on OpenSea. The iconic character, featured in the 1928 short film “Steamboat Willie,” recently entered the public domain, triggering a surge in NFT collections related to this vintage version.
Steamboat Willie just became Public Domain at midnight.
I set up a @manifoldxyz mint for the original image of him.
It's a collection with a supply of 2,000 and price of .001 ETH (~$2). If it doesn't mint out it closes in 24 hours.
The first mint was at exactly midnight, the… pic.twitter.com/KmIqgxR6hh
— Alexander Taub (🔺👁🔺) (@ajt) January 1, 2024
Steamboat Willie’s Digital Resurgence
On January 1, the 1928 version of Mickey Mouse from “Steamboat Willie” became publicly accessible as its copyright term concluded, aligning with the 95-year limit set by United States law. This historic move paved the way for three NFT collections linked to the early mascot, securing the top positions on OpenSea’s 24-hour trending list.
The leading collection, titled “Steamboat Willie Public Domain 2024,” seized the spotlight, generating around $1.2 million in trading volume and claiming the coveted number one spot. Following closely were “Steamboat Willie” at number two and “Steamboat Willie’s Riverboat” at number three.
These collections didn’t just dominate the trending list but also made a significant mark on OpenSea’s 24-hour top charts, sharing space with renowned collections like the Bored Ape Yacht Club and Pudgy Penguins.
Legal Constraints Amid the NFT Boom
While enthusiasts celebrated the revival of the classic character in the digital realm, legal experts, including Oscar Franklin Tan, the Chief Legal Officer of Enjin’s NFT platform Atlas, emphasized the limitations of utilizing this version of Mickey Mouse. Tan clarified that only the specific 1928 depiction is in the public domain, excluding more recent iterations and the broader trademark and brand associated with Mickey.
Tan highlighted the importance of clarifying non-affiliation with Disney for those employing the 1928 Mickey Mouse version in their NFTs. This distinction becomes crucial to prevent any confusion regarding the affiliation of these digital creations with the official Disney brand.
Disney’s Stance on Modern Versions
In response to this surge in NFT activity around the vintage Mickey, Disney, in a statement to CNN, assured the public that their rights in modern versions of Mickey Mouse would remain unaffected by the entry of “Steamboat Willie” into the public domain. The company expressed its commitment to protecting its intellectual property rights and preventing consumer confusion arising from unauthorized uses of iconic characters like Mickey.
The NFT community’s embrace of this public domain milestone illustrates the dynamic intersection of historical works and contemporary digital platforms. As creators explore the newfound freedom around early Disney characters, the NFT space continues to evolve, blending traditional cultural icons with modern digital expression.