Come January 1, 2024, the copyright to a certain iconic cartoon rodent will expire—and you can be among first to get a sculpture produced without the consent of the company that currently owns it.
MSCHF, the New York art and design collective known for cutting up a $30,000 Damien Hirst spot print and turning Americans’ medical bills Into paintings, is currently selling advance tokens for a Mickey Mouse collectible, redeemable when the copyright to Disney’s signature character expires in two and a half years.
But MSCHF isn’t branding their newest drop as a Mickey Mouse artwork. In not-so-subtle code, the collective refers to the character as “Famous Mouse” and the company behind it as “Famous Animation Co.”—terms that allow the group to both sidestep copyright law and satirize it at the same time.
For MSCHF, that’s where the real proposition lies: the negotiation of the knotty legislation governing popular imagery and intellectual property. And in that arena, Disney is the player to pursue.
“Mickey is the first classic Disney character that’s set to enter the public domain (specifically the Steamboat Willie incarnation), so he’s the soonest available target,” MSCHF chief creative officer Kevin Wiesner told Artnet News in an email. “Disney is notoriously litigious, so they’re the perfect target for this kind of copyright-loophole shenanigans.”
Wiesner pointed out that Disney’s lobbyists were instrumental in pushing for the 1998 Copyright Term Extension Act, a piece of U.S. law that effectively lengthened the amount of time a work of art is protected before entering into the public domain. It’s often referred to as the “Mickey Mouse Protection Act,” because of the company’s efforts in stretching the copyright of the character.
“Disney is a true multinational behemoth, able to change national laws to suit the interests of a cartoon mouse,” reads MSCHF’s manifesto for the project. “Fair use is a sick joke when one side is a rabidly litigious $120+ billion corporation.”
The “Famous Mouse” website explains that the future piece will be made of cast vinyl and stand five inches tall. But Wiesner warned against taking those details at face value. “We cannot say any specifics because it would violate Disney’s copyright for us to have ‘begun production’ at this point in time,” he said.
Throughout the site you’ll find the phrase “Not affiliated with “Disney” in any way,” accompanied by a winking face.
It makes sense that copyright law would be on the minds of MSCHF members. This spring, the collective came under fire for their project “Satan Shoes,” a series of 666 Nike Air Max sneakers modified with drops of human blood in the soles and a bronze pentagram adorning the laces.
The shoes, it turned out, offended many: Christians, conservatives, and—most notably—Nike itself. The company sued MSCHF for trademark infringement and was subsequently granted a temporary restraining order against the studio by a U.S. District Court judge. Shortly after news of the lawsuit headlined articles online, the two parties settled out of court, and MSCHF agreed to recall its “Satan Shoes.”
“Nike is a great company and we love them. We’re very grateful that they taught us about how big companies really operate and now we follow the law always,” Wiesner wrote in his email to Artnet News.
“Copyright is a loophole game,” he went on, more seriously. “But it all seems to go one direction. ‘Famous Mouse’ is looking for loopholes that are less favorable to corporations, instead of more.”
The “Famous Mouse” tokens cost $100 a pop; each comes with a unique digital code for redemption in 2024.