A token depicting Mickey Mouse has been put up for sale – but it’s not from The Walt Disney Company.
MSCHF has brought the “X Famous Mouse” onto the market. The company’s promotional text doesn’t name the token “Mickey Mouse” or – for now – use its exact images, but it is a placeholder for the iconic character and comes with a unique ticking clock. The idea is that you pay for the nondescript mouse-like token today (cost: $ 100 for one of the 1,000 available copies) and then get a physical collector token for the character that can be redeemed in 2024 – if Disney’s copyright to Mickey Mouse set will go out. This is when you get the real deal.
At this point, you’re probably wondering, wait, Disney will lose the rights to Mickey Mouse?
The answer is: yes, but –
The copyright to Walt Disney’s 1928 cartoon Steamboat Willie – who introduced the world to Mickey Mouse – will expire and become public domain in three years. The rights include the character Mickey Mouse as she appeared in the film. But in an effort to avoid precisely this problem, Disney successfully lobbied Congress in 1988 to extend the number of years that copyrights can be held. The law is known as the Copyright Term Extension Act, but has also been known as the Mickey Mouse Protection Act.
“Disney is a true multinational giant that can change national laws to suit the interests of a cartoon mouse,” explains MSCHF in its “Manifesto” about the token. “Disney is a huge, everything-swallowing conglomerate with a desire for both industrial dominance and cultural hegemony. It is constantly growing, it is all-encompassing, risk averse and anti-social. We must seize the opportunity to take back the meager nibbles that are available to us. At the slightest chance we have to eat them alive. “
Of course, Disney’s legal department could succeed in preventing Walt Disney’s famous character and the mouse house mascot from becoming lawless, like other iconic characters like Sherlock Holmes and Dracula.
In this case, the token redemption date is also extended, with the token constantly chasing after the character’s eventual public domain date – like a cat and Mickey Mouse copyright game, if you will. For MSCHF CEO Gabe Whaley, that rebellious pursuit is the whole idea, not the ultimate goal, which may or may not actually materialize.
“For us, art IS the idea of a ‘famous mouse’ objet d’art that potentially exists in the future,” Whaley told The Hollywood Reporter. “To that extent it is a permanent piece. If Disney succeeds in changing the copyright again, the duration of the artwork will be extended, but the concept will be retained in full. We just have to wait longer until we can conclude where we are making the object. ”
MSCHF has a celebrated history of stunts like this. The company releases what might be called viral prank merchandise. In 2019 they released a sold-out pair of “Jesus Shoes” – a custom Air Max 97 with holy water from the Jordan and priced at $ 1,425. They followed this year with the release of another modified pair called Satan Shoes (for $ 1,018) that contained a drop of human blood, with some promotional help from Lil Nas X. They sold out in less than a minute, but ran out of stock a lawsuit filed by Nike (which has been settled).
Which begs the question, is this Mickey Mouse-esque thing, you know, legal?
“We believe that based on research and expert advice,” says MSCHF in its FAQ.
“Famous Mouse uses the concept of concept art as a copyright loophole,” adds Whaley. “Copyright is always a game with loopholes, but it always seems to be going in one direction: in favor of the company. That’s a detour to get the mouse out early. “
If all of this doesn’t sound entirely certain, a veteran copyright attorney contacted by The Hollywood Reporter predicted that things could become controversial. “It’s hard to foresee a scenario in which [art] a work that is not yet in the public domain would not qualify for a possible claim, ”said attorney James Sammataro. “Disney can plausibly argue that the Inchoate license devalues the current value of its licensing rights by diverting potential licensees.”
Disney didn’t have an immediate comment, but we suspect the company isn’t amused – which, to be fair, is the point.