From Escher to Mickey Mouse, Here Are the Artistic Gems Entering the Public Domain in 2024

In some countries, the works of Picabia and Picasso have joined the public domain.

Mickie Mouse is pictured in Steamboat Willie.

As 2023 turned to 2024, yet more creative works have shed their copyright protections and joined the public domain.

In the United States, which has the world’s longest and toughest copyright periods before expiration, the copyrights for paintings and books made between 1924 and 1978 are generally protected for 95 years from the date of publication in the U.S. This means that works from 1928 are entering the public domain this year.

Paintings and other artwork completed in 1928 in the United States include works by Edward Hopper, who died in 1967, as well as René Magritte’s The Empty Mask, M.C. Escher’s Tower of Babel, and an ink drawing by Henri Matisse.

The novel Nadja by André Breton, the leader and principal theorist of the Surrealist movement in art history, is now part of the public domain, as is Wanda Gág’s picture book Millions of Cats and Karl Blossfeldt’s photography monograph Urformen der Kunst.

Most of Europe—including the United Kingdom—as well as South America and Canada grant copyrights for 70 years after the death of the creator. In Spain, the rule is 80 years. Most of Africa and Asia, as well as Belarus, protect copyrights for 50 years after the death of the creator. So, the works entering the public domain in the United States this year may have all already lost their copyright protections in most other countries around the world. And some entering the public domain in other countries remain protected in the United States.

Such works entering the public domain in countries where the rule is 70 years after the death of the creator include all works by the Cubist and Dada painter Francis Picabia, Latvian sculptor Vera Mukhina, and French-British illustrator Edmund Dulac, all of whom died in 1953.

And in countries where works enter the public domain just 50 years after the death of the creator, Picasso’s entire oeuvre is now copyright-free. Other artists who died in 1973 include Danish artist Asger Jorn, Brazilian modernist Tarsila do Amaral, and cartoonist Chic Young, the creator of the Blondie comic strip.

But perhaps the most significant art to enter the public domain this year—or ever—are the inaugural versions of Walt Disney Studios’s characters Mickey Mouse and Minnie Mouse, as depicted in the animated short films Steamboat Willie and Plane Crazy. The public is now free to use Mickey, just the Steamboat Willie version, however they like, so long as it doesn’t violate Disney trademarks.

Jennifer Jenkins, the director of the Duke Center for the Study of the Public Domain at Duke University, wrote in an article that the anticipation for Mickey Mouse to enter the public domain surpassed that of Sherlock Holmes and Winnie the Pooh. Tigger, another character from the Winnie the Pooh books, also entered the public domain this year.

“Disney pushed for the law that extended the copyright term to 95 years, which became referred to derisively as the ‘Mickey Mouse Protection Act.’ This extension has been criticized by scholars as being economically regressive and having a devastating effect on our ability to digitize, archive, and gain access to our cultural heritage,” Jenkins wrote, adding that now the company has itself become a “talented and successful practitioner of building upon the public domain.”

Barely a day since the 1928 version of Mickey Mouse entered the public domain, an as-yet-untitled slasher film centered on a reimagining of Steamboat Willie was announced.


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