Last Week Tonight host John Oliver is aiming to find out just how far he can push intellectual copyright law by taking on the biggest, baddest player in the game, the Walt Disney Company.
On Sunday night’s episode, Oliver provided a brief rundown of the circumstances that will see Mickey Mouse enter the public domain on January 1, 2024. Here’s our piece from last December that explains the details of the situation.
Oliver elaborated on the popular theory that Disney will plan to use trademark protections, which don’t expire, to protect the Mickey character.
“It does feel like a tactical legal move,” Oliver said. “Basically, they may argue that this early Mickey’s image is so closely associated with their company that people automatically assume that any image of him was produced or authorized by them and still take legal action.”
After explaining that anyone trying to use the character runs the risk of summoning Disney’s lawyers, Oliver cheekily introduced a new recurring character on Last Week Tonight with John Oliver, Mickey Mouse.
Mickey’s first line on the show gave a good indication of just how Oliver’s writers plan to use the character when he asked, “Where’s Shelly Miscavige?” – Miscavige being Scientology leader David Miscavige’s wife who hasn’t been seen in public for more than a decade. The cartoon mouse also later claimed, “I hope Henry Kissinger dies soon.”
The Last Week Tonight bit ended with a person in a Mickey mascot costume, fashioned after the Steamboat Willie original, walking out on stage, dancing around, and claiming, “Jeffery Epstein didn’t kill himself.”
According to Oliver, “As of January 1 next year, this mascot costume will be available to you for Birthday parties, theme park openings, funerals, sex dungeons, basically whatever you want to use it for.”
All of that is dependent, of course, on how Disney responds to the provocation and whether or not its lawyers can find a way to keep control over the character even after Steamboat Willie hits the public domain.
According to the host, “We’re only likely to find out what the [arguments are] if and when they sue.”
Pictured at top: Screengrab from Last Week Tonight with John Oliver