Save Taxes with Expert Assisted ITR filing.
Starts from ₹799 onwards

When Exclusive Rights Fall Into Public Domain – From Mickey Mouse To Movies In India

In this article we will be discussing the concept of public domain in the context of copyright laws

According to the Indian law, the copyrights are not granted for the idea, instead it is protected by the law. Copyrights exist in literary works such as dramas, music, books, scripts, computer programs, lyrics and many more. Copyrights are also sought in creative arts such as artwork, sculptures and photographs. Copyrights exist till the author survives or seventy more years. In this period, a copyright can be assigned, sold or licensed for a time period. This is why most books are turning into movies now. When we think of the most loved characters throughout history – Mickey and Minnie Mouse, instantly Disney comes to mind. From the time in 1928, when the first image of a Mickey Mouse premiered in the short-film Steamboat Willie, Disney almost became synonymous with Mickey Mouse and sought extensive Rights Fall Into Public Domain.

But as all good things come with expiry, so does copyright in a work of creative art. In this post, we look at how Mickey Mouse came to be granted Rights Fall Into Public Domain and also compare it with the copyright position in India.

United States Copyrights Law & The Changing Dynamics Of Protection

On January 1, 2019, every book, film, song or drama published in 1923 fell out of Copyright protection in the United States—something that hasn’t happened in four decades. In the year 1998, works published before the year 1922 were already in the public domain, and the works registered 1923 onwards were scheduled to expire in the year 1999. However, it was speculated that the family that benefitted from Disney’s exclusivity of use of Mickey Mouse lobbied with the then Congress, and got the Sonny Bono Copyright Term Extension Act enacted, which added 20 more years to the old works, giving exclusive protection to Mickey Mouse till the year 2024.

What this ensures is that if there is no retrospective (or backdated) extension of copyright to Mickey Mouse, anyone anywhere may be able to use Mickey Mouse as a character. However, Disney will still own the merchandise owing to its registered trademark, which can be renewed indefinitely.  

Why are Copyrights Not Granted Indefinitely?

It is believed that the creation of art and artistic forms, and their enjoyment is essential to our human life. Copyrights emerged as a delicate balance between the twin goals of compensating the author and enriching Rights Fall Into Public Domain by making art accessible. Thus, copyrights were never intended to be tools of indefinite monetization and commercialization by the creator, who is given a set number of years to reap advantages of their creation. The rise of the Internet has also changed the public sentiment and has had a deep impact on the landscape on copyright issues. Large internet companies, like Google and Wikipedia, have become powerful opponents of expanding copyright protections.

India And its Copyright Law

As far as Indian laws are concerned, there is no copyright that can be granted for an idea, but rather what the law protects is the expression or the manifestation of the idea. This leads to copyrights existing in literary works like books, dramas, scripts, lyrics, computer programs and song copyright etc. This is not all, for those in the creative arts space – copyright can also be sought for sculptures, artwork, and photographs. The only other requirement besides originality is the tangibility of the creation. What this means is that the creation should be on such a medium that is perceptible by ordinary senses, thereby eliminating any scope for granting copyrights to mere ideas.

Copyright exists for as long as the author survives, plus seventy more years. During this period, a copyright may be sold, assigned or licensed for a particular time period. This is also how most books that are turned into films are made workable.

Who Would Be The Author – The Creator, Designer Or Producer?

In reckoning when a certain published work would fall into public domain, there exist questions on who would be termed ‘author’ under the copyright law. One would naturally assume that the person creating – the artist, the lyricist, the singer to be authors. However, most commercial contracts include a clause that necessitates surrendering of copyright ownership by the real creator in favour of the producer or publishing or investing company in the film or the book. They can then sell or licence these to others for commercial purposes. This also raises legal questions on the real impact of copyrights, its initial purpose of rewarding the artists and falling of the published works rights Fall Into Public Domain for re-use by the public.

While Shakespearian works may have fallen into public domain long ago, it is movies released before 1950 that would be considered to have become freely available for use by the public.

From January 1, 2019 in the US all the books, songs, dramas or films which were published in 1923 have fallen out of copyrights protection. But Disney has been exclusively making use of Mickey Mouse under the Sonny Bono copyright term extension act , which has extended to 20 more years providing exclusive protection till 2024


Intellectual property rights have always been under the shadow of a heated debate, especially when it comes to copyright. This is because copyright deals with exclusive commercial rights over a piece of art or creativity. So it begs the question whether art itself can be truly original and if not then how can anyone have exclusive rights over it. There is also the question of whether copyrights restrict one’s creativity given the fear of being sued or contravening the law, given the arbitrariness of Intellectual Property Rights in general. If you have any other questions or require any assistance in any regulatory or legal matter, do get in touch with us and we will ensure that you receive the best professional assistance for your requirements.

Must Read Topics:


Back to top button


Remove Adblocker Extension