Peter Pan Growing Up Stirs Legal Gray Area; Mickey Up Soon

January 28, 2020Media Mention
Bloomberg Law

Peter Pan has grown up, but the adult version portrayed by Robin Williams hasn’t. And Walt Disney Co.’s versions of Peter may never fully grow up.

The copyright for the 1924 silent film Peter Pan expired Jan. 1, putting it in the second batch of works to enter the public domain after a two-decade moratorium imposed by Congress. That means anyone can copy the film’s images, characters, dialogue, and storylines, even if they appear in more recent works still protected by copyright.

Owners of valuable franchises going public will look to other intellectual property laws to at least partially protect them, which could create a gray area where rights collide, attorneys say. The importance of that gray area will only expand in 2024 when the original Mickey Mouse joins the parade into the public domain. Many link protection of Mickey, a brand worth billions to Disney, to the law that created the moratorium.

“There’s going to be litigation as more of these works are exploited, and as people test the boundaries of what can and can’t be done,” intellectual property attorney Aaron Moss of Greenberg Glusker Fields Claman & Machtinger LLP said. “We don’t have a ton of guidance yet on how those cases would be decided.”