Mickey Mouse Emeritus: Character Protection and the Public Domain

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The intellectual property epidemic of the current era is the call to give increased legal protection to something because it is valuable: If it is valuable, then giving it property-like protection will generate trade, which will generate wealth, which will generate more investment in similar somethings. Giving it greater protection will generate more trade and more wealth and even more somethings. And we all like lots of somethings. Peter Nolan's job involves maximizing the protection accorded to the somethings that fill the Walt Disney Company stable of characters. By combining copyright law, trademark law, unfair competition law, misappropriation law and contract law, his band of lawyers has stitched together some pretty impregnable armor for Mickey Mouse and his siblings. Indeed, after the Disney Company objected to a day care center's painting a picture of Mickey Mouse on its walls, and sued over the cheesy Snow White parody that began the 1989 Oscar broadcast, Disney's eagerness to go to court to protect its characters itself became a target of satire. Saturday Night Live did a skit about it with Jon Lovitz and Geena Davis; Berkley Breathed drew an Outland story about Mickey's brother Mortimer Mouse.