Disney lost the copyright to “Steamboat Willie” along with the earliest iteration of Mickie and Minnie Mouse, spurring an outburst of creativity. Within hours, remixes and mashups of the film’s scenes and sounds flooded YouTube and other platforms.
Some people found it exhilarating to have Mickey Mouse swear, others to make him shoot people or crash the Titanic. The crypto-savvy ones have identified business opportunities in turning (ex-)Disney’s mouse into NFTs – and they seem to have nailed it.
Steamboat Willie NFTs have quickly made it to the top of the trending collection list on OpenSea.io, the world’s largest NFT marketplace. They are also climbing up the top-category ranking, with two collections having already made it to the top ten and scoring nearly 400% in 24-hour volume growth each. Also, three are listed as top collector buys today, including Steamboat Willie, Steamboat Willie Public Domain, and Steamboat Willie’s Riverboat.
The “Steamboat Willie” short animation, directed by Walt Disney himself and his fellow cartoonist Ub Iwerks, was released in 1928. It is notable as one of the first animated movies with synchronized sound and a fully post-produced soundtrack. “Steamboat Willie” turned out to be an immediate hit, paving the way for Mickey Mouse’s – and Disney’s – international fame.
Now, it’s enjoying a comeback as public domain content without intellectual property restrictions and an NFT asset. US regulations allow the rights to characters to be held for 95 years. Consequently, as of Monday, January 1 2024, “Steamboat Willie” characters can be shared, sampled, reprocessed, and repurposed without legal risk.
Other characters from the 1928 films and books are also available to the US public. They include Tigger from AA Milne's book “The House at Pooh Corner” and the personages from Charlie Chaplin's silent comedy “The Circus,” to name the most notable works.