mdbheadshotfinalHas it really been fifteen years since the Copyright Term Extension Act was signed into law? (It has. President Clinton signed the bill on October 27, 1998.) Time flies when you’re protected by copyright law, I suppose. And what the CTEA did, of course, is extend the period of copyright (for many works) for another two decades. (For the details and a discussion of the opposition to the law, read this piece from the Washington Post.)

The CTEA is popularly known as the “Sonny Bono Act” (in memory of the musician-turned-Congressman who had died tragically earlier in 1998)… and derisively as the “Mickey Mouse Protection Act,” because if not for the CTEA, “Steamboat Willie,” the first Mickey Mouse cartoon, would have entered the public domain in 2003. According to some, this would have allowed anyone to use the character in new works, but that hardly seems correct, being that (1) the depiction of Mickey Mouse is a registered trademark of the Walt Disney Company, and (2) there is no 2. If the 1928 short film were to enter the public domain, there would likely be very little harm done to Disney. Many much wiser legal scholars than I have addressed this topic, however, so instead I’m going to tell you about my personal connection to Mickey Mouse:

Not my grandfather's work.
Not my grandfather’s work.

Years ago, my late paternal grandfather had a business that sold souvenir items to gift shops in New York City. My grandfather, as I understand it, bought in bulk various and sundry (cheap) novelty items, like plates, mugs, key chains, oversized pencils, piggy banks, etc., on which he would then have printed or otherwise applied graphics to make them New York City souvenirs. Usually, the graphic was some form of the I?NY (a trademark of the State of New York).

And sometimes it included a depiction of none other than Mickey Mouse.

Yes, my grandfather received a cease-and-desist letter from counsel for Disney. I couldn’t tell you if my grandfather ceased or desisted applying Mickey Mouse graphics on the souvenirs that he sold to gift shops. He probably did. That is, he certainly did when he eventually gave up the business and moved to Florida.

So there’s my confession: I come from a family of trademark infringers. One, anyway. I hope you’ll still be able to respect me. It feels good to get that off my chest, anyway.

5 thoughts on “A Mickey Mouse confession.”
  1. I can do better.

    When I was a young teen, I was a crazy Yankees fan. And this was the late 1970’s, before you could get all kinds of licensed crap for pro sports. So we wanted to make a Yankees “thing” based on the team’s logo you could put on the wall.

    NY Yankees LogoI had a bit of an artist’s hand, and he had a jigsaw and, for some reason, a supply of very thick, maybe three-ply, corrugated cardboard. So I drew and, somehow, painted the Yankees logo onto this cardboard, and he then cut it out. (Not a very difficult task, as you can see from the logo.)

    We made a couple of these unlicensed expressions of team enthusiasm.

    And then we made a couple more.

    And we caused those couple more to be transferred into the possession of certain third persons.

    And they did as consideration therefore compensate us by transmitting into our possession certain cash funds.

    Yes: I personally was a counterfeiter of unlicensed Major League Baseball merchandise — and that of very dubious quality — clearly not the level of merchandise that would be produced by Reggie Jackson and Thurman Munson.

    Moreover, I did not acknowledge this information in the materials I submitted to the Character and Fitness Committee for the New York bar.

    But that’s all water under the bridge now, right?


  2. Water under the bridge? Yes, until Congress passes the Minnie Mouse Copyright Infringement Statute of Limitations Extension Act.

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