The world would be a very different place if the entertainment giant known as Disney hadn’t of stepped in and lobbied for change to copyright laws. Movies, comic books, anything and everything superheroes would be unrecognizable today. And it all started with Steamboat Willie, soon to be known the world over as Mickey Mouse. Copyright law used to be a very finite thing, but with the popularity of Mickey, Disney couldn’t stand to let him go, and still fights today to hang on to the property. Because of this, many other properties have benefited from the changes in law, including but not limited to Marvel and DC. Ever wanted to write a Superman story of your own? Ever wanted to combine Thor and Wonder Woman in their own superhero duo? You can’t. But only because Disney stepped in. What did they change? What beloved superheroes could you be creating with today?
Before Disney stepped in, Copyright was a 14-year term which was renewable for one additional 14-year term, but only if the author was alive at the end of the first 14. Even then, it only applied to maps, charts, and books. In 1831, it was amended to 28 years with a one-time 14-year renewal. In 1909, it was changed yet again to 28 years with a one-time 28-year renewal.
That’s when Disney entered the picture, so to speak. Steamboat Willie, the first incarnation of Mickey Mouse, was made in 1928. that gave Mickey to Disney for 56 years. That meant that if the laws stayed the same, Mickey would enter the public domain in 1984. Many of us nerds today wouldn’t have grown up with Mickey Mouse as a Disney property. In 1976, Congress overhauled the system, meaning that Disney’s copyright extended. The 1976 Act made it so individual authors were granted protection to their death, plus 50 years. This was the norm overseas. As the deadline until entering the public domain loomed ever closer, Disney took to Congress yet again, pushing for the Sonny Bono Copyright Term Extension Act of 1998. This changed copyrights for anything created on or after Jan. 1st, 1978 till the death of the author plus 70 years and extended copyrights for corporate creations to 95 years from the first publication or 120 years from the year of creation. That means Disney’s Mickey Mouse copyright protected doesn’t end until 2023.
Disney is bigger than ever. The idea that they will start letting their properties slip into public domain seems almost laughable. To see how strange the world would be if Disney had left copyright laws alone, here’s a list of superheroes that would be public domain today.
Set aside all of the Avengers and Justice League (That’s right, the blockbuster mega-giants would all be public domain today) and let’s look at 5 superhero properties that would be in public domain by today.
The character who has been in the comic books forever and is used in the CW show Legends of Tomorrow.
Made into a movie twice, and likely to be re-made again soon now that Disney owns the rights from Fox.
Another one featured in a CW show. Did we mention both The Atom and Black Canary were featured in video games like the Injustice series and DCUOnline?
The Phantom Stranger
Phantom Stranger was a big part of the New52’s relaunch, especially with it’s magically-inclined series like Justice League Dark, being apart of the Trinity Of Sin story arc.
No one should have to explain who Groot is at this point. The loveable talking tree that won the hearts of young and old alike in the Guardians of the Galaxy movies would once have been in the public domain today.
That’s right. Any comic book creation from before 1962 YOU could potentially be used in your own creations. Obviously, copyright laws would be argued against by other companies as Disney isn’t the only ones to benefit from their changes. But these laws mean that we are denying ourselves the use of works for the first time in our country’s history. Important works like scientific studies are kept from public hands due to law, not just entertainment. Disney, who built their own works on top of what came before them, have denied creators, storytellers, and artists the ability to explore and create, hampering innovation for decades.
What superhero do you think would benefit from entering the public domain? Let us know in the comments below, or hit us up on Facebook or Twitter!