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MSCHF has launched the “X Famous Mouse.” The company’s ad copy doesn’t call the token “Mickey Mouse” or use its exact imagery — for now — but it’s a placeholder for the iconic character and comes with a unique ticking clock. The idea is you pay for the nondescript mouse-like token today (cost: $100 for one of the 1,000 copies available) and then you receive a physical collectible token for the character that’s redeemable in 2024 — when Disney’s copyright on Mickey Mouse is set to expire. At that time, you’ll receive the real deal.
At this point, you’re probably wondering: Hold up, Disney is going to lose the rights to Mickey Mouse?
The answer is: Yes, but —
The copyright for Walt Disney’s 1928 cartoon Steamboat Willie — which introduced the world to Mickey Mouse — is set to expire and enter the public domain in three years. The rights will include the character Mickey Mouse as he appeared in the film. But in 1988, in an effort to avoid this very same issue, Disney successfully lobbied Congress to lengthen the number of years that copyrights can be held. The law is called the Copyright Term Extension Act but has also also been dubbed “the Mickey Mouse Protection Act.”
“Disney is a true multinational behemoth, able to change national laws to suit the interests of a cartoon mouse,” explains MSCHF in its “manifesto” on the token. “Disney is a massive all-swallowing conglomerate, with a desire for both industry dominance and cultural hegemony. It is ever-growing, all-encompassing, risk-averse and society-blandening. We must leap at the chance to take back even the scant morsels available to us. At the slightest chance we must eat them alive.”
Of course, Disney’s legal team might succeed in keeping Walt Disney’s famous character and Mouse House mascot from becoming rights-free like other iconic characters such as Sherlock Holmes and Dracula.
If that should happen, the token’s redemption date will be likewise extended, with the token constantly chasing the character’s eventual public domain date — like a copyright game of cat and Mickey Mouse, if you will. For MSCHF CEO Gabe Whaley, this rebellious pursuit is the whole idea, not the eventual destination that may or may not actually happen.
“For us, the art IS the idea of a ‘famous mouse’ art object that exists in potential in the future,” Whaley told The Hollywood Reporter. “It is in that way a durational piece. If Disney manages to change copyright law again, the duration of the artwork is extended but the concept remains completely in tact. We’ll just have to wait longer to reach the conclusion where we make the object.”
MSCHF has a celebrated history of doing this sort of stunt. The company releases what might be called viral prank merchandise. In 2019 it released a sold-out pair of “Jesus shoes” — customized Air Max 97s containing holy water from the River Jordan and priced at $1,425. It followed up this year with the release with another modified pair, dubbed Satan Shoes (for $1,018), which contained a drop of human blood, with some promotional help from Lil Nas X. Those sold out in less than a minute but resulted in a lawsuit from Nike (which was settled).
Which raises the question: Is this Mickey Mouse-ish thing, you know, legal?
“We believe so on the basis of research and expert advice,” MSCHF says in its FAQ.
“Famous Mouse is using the idea of conceptual art as a copyright loophole,” Whaley adds. “Copyright is always a game of loopholes, but it always seems to go one direction: in favor the the corporation. This is roundabout way to get the mouse out early.”
If all that sounds not entirely certain, an experienced copyright attorney contacted by The Hollywood Reporter predicted things could get contentious. “It’s difficult to foresee a scenario where [art] of a not-yet-in-the-public-domain work would not give rise to a prospective claim,” lawyer James Sammataro said. “Disney can credibly argue that the inchoate license devalues the current value of its licensing rights by diverting up would-be licensees.”
Disney had no immediate comment, but we suspect the company is not amused — which is, to be fair, the point.
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