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The internet copyright machine wasn’t made for Mickey Mouse

A screenshot of Mickey Mouse in Steamboat Willie from 1928.

Earlier this week, Disney’s film Steamboat Willie entered the US public domain after nearly a century — and so did its star Mickey Mouse. It was a turning point for one of the 20th century’s most iconic and rigorously protected pieces of intellectual property, and it was celebrated by an explosion of irreverent Mickey reinterpretations, including at least two film trailers, a horror game, a custom AI model, and a slew of predictably tasteless memes. The original cartoon was also uploaded in full on platforms like YouTube, letting anyone watch it for free.

The change has also been marked by a confusing string of moderation decisions. In the first days of January, Techdirt noted that Disney was apparently still filing claims to block the…

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