Prankster cooperative MSCHF, never one to shy away from legal drama, has announced the creation of a “Famous Mouse” collectible to be released in 2024. Why won’t it be released until 2024, you ask? Well, because a “Famous Animation Company” holds the intellectual property rights to said Famous Mouse until 2024.
As a cute little workaround to this behemoth-sized IP issue, MSCHF is selling temporary tokens that can later be redeemed for a copy of the actual Famous Mouse artwork. MSCHF is quick to explain in an FAQ that the Famous Mouse art doesn’t actually exist yet. There would be obvious legal implications if it did.
“Mickey Mouse.” Say it softly, sweetly, so Disney doesn’t hear you. That’s the selling point of the Famous Mouse prank — by not saying the name of either the massive media conglomerate or its most famous character, said company will not pay any mind to MSCHF’s latest mischief. That’s some strong wishful thinking.
Will Disney sue? — In the project’s FAQ, MSCHF explains that technically speaking, Disney does not have any reason to pursue legal avenues against it. MSCHF says it’s come to this conclusion through some “research and expert advice.”
The basic premise seems lawsuit-proof. As MSCHF explains, first copyright laws in the U.S. protected artwork and other creations for just 14 years — but that’s now crept up to 95 years of protection. Disney is actually the number-one reason for this longevity — 1998’s Copyright Term Extension Act is sometimes known as the “Mickey Mouse Protection Act” for this very reason.
But like, they’ll probably try — Steamboat Willie, the earliest iteration of Mickey, debuted in 1928. That should mean Mickey Mouse officially enters the public domain at the end of 2023 and, as such, it should be entirely legal for MSCHF to create and sell its own Famous Mouse artwork in 2024.
But Disney is notoriously fickle about its intellectual property. Mickey’s owners have been known to throw billions at IP lawsuits. Mickey, in particular, has been the subject of multiple public domain lawsuits already, mostly related to the minutia of copyright law. And, of course, Disney put its massive weight behind litigation to push the public domain timeframe up to 95 years in the late ‘90s — there’s nothing to stop the company from repeating history in the next few years.
MSCHF’s whole schtick is about sowing chaos in the art world, so the threat of litigation is moot to the collective. Customers don’t need to worry too much, either — MSCHF says that, if Disney pushes the IP laws another 10 years, for example, it will simply create and release the artwork in 2034 instead.