If you’ve ever applied for, or researched copyright law, you likely learned one thing above all else: it’s not a perpetual right. So, how, you might wonder, have companies like The Walt Disney Company managed to maintain copyrights on certain creations for almost 100 years? In the case of the Walt Disney Company, the answer is simple. It is powerful enough that it actually changed United States copyright law before its rights were going to expire.
When copyright law was first codified in the United States pursuant to the United States Copyright Act, the copyright duration was limited to 14 years. Today, copyrights can last over 100 years. That’s a huge change, and there are an overwhelming number of copyright experts that will tell you that it is all because of a mouse.
Now that may be a slight overstatement. The copyright duration changed some prior to the creation of Mickey Mouse. The Copyright Act of 1790 included a provision that provided for an additional 14-year term if the creator was alive. Of course, at that point, copyright protection only applied to select creations such as maps and books. But 41 years later, in 1831, the Act was amended to allow for an initial 28-year term, with eligibility for a 14-year extension. Thereafter, in 1909, the Act was changed again to allow for a 28-year renewal instead.