On the LA Times website today was an interesting report about Disney’s long-held copyright claims to Mickey Mouse.
One investigator claims that not only should the copyrights regarding Mickey Mouse (and Steamboat Willie) be expired, but that they were null and void to begin with.
Furthermore, but not reported in the story is Steamboat Willie’s resemblance in name (and partial story elements) to a Buster Keaton film named Steamboat Bill Jr.
Both films were released in 1928. Steamboat Bill Jr in May, and Steamboat Willie in July.
Both films are about a Steamboat captain named, ostensibly named William.
Two months is enough time to animate a seven minute long short.
It is entirely possible that Steamboat Willie was in breach of existing copyright the moment it was created.
This is one tale, we will have to keep an eye on in the future. Please note however, that while this iteration of Mickey Mouse (and the short) may be revealed to be public domain, the larger library of Disney animations featuring Mickey Mouse will not be.