On July 28, 2023, the unofficial Disney fan website known as Inside the Magic published an article with the headline, "Mickey Mouse Officially Being Retired Effective Immediately."
The story began with a similar claim, reading, "The Walt Disney Company is about to do the unthinkable: retire Mickey Mouse."
However, this was not true.
The headline was similar to other past, poorly worded headlines that had also come from Inside the Magic.
For example, in October 2022, the website published the headline, "Universal Studios Orlando Closes Location Permanently." As we reported, the truth revealed in the story was that Universal Studios Florida was not closing, but rather a lone shop was reportedly being moved to a different area of the park.
Similarly, in December 2022, Inside the Magic published, "Disney Channel Set to Cease All Broadcasts." Again, the truth with this story wasn't what some readers may have understood from the headline. The news only applied to Russia, an important bit of context that we reported wasn't in their headline.
In Facebook comments on the Inside the Magic Facebook page, users called all three of these stories "clickbait."
Under an Inside the Magic Facebook post about Mickey Mouse supposedly being retired by The Walt Disney Company, one user called Inside the Magic "the National Enquirer of worst Disney 'news' coverage." Similarly, a Reddit user said, "Inside the Magic is literally clickbait meant to scare people."
Here's what the Inside the Magic story said under the headline about Mickey Mouse's purported retirement.
An early part of the article read, "It seems that the House of Mouse is about to shut down its lead character today, July 28, on the 100th anniversary of the company." According to the official Disney fan club website D23.com, The Walt Disney Company was founded on Oct. 16, 1923.
After a lengthy introduction with background information on the character of Mickey Mouse, the Inside the Magic article referenced the cartoon series, "The Wonderful World of Mickey Mouse," which began its run in 2013 under the shorter name, "Mickey Mouse." Disney announced on July 28 that the series was ending. The final short included a special appearance by the early version of Mickey Mouse from the 1928 black-and-white cartoon, "Steamboat Willie."
Later in the Inside the Magic article, under a header titled, "Disney's Copyright Woes," the story said that, "Mickey Mouse will enter the public domain in 2024." This was an apparent reference to "Steamboat Willie." ("Steamboat Willie" was not mentioned in this specific part of the story, but links that were included did lead to information about the old cartoon.)
For more information about this matter, we turned to credible reporting from The New York Times.
On Dec. 27, 2022, the Times' reported, "'Steamboat Willie,' the 1928 short film that introduced Mickey to the world, will lose copyright protection in the United States and a few other countries at the end of ."
The main part of the Times' article specified that "only one copyright is expiring," that being "the original version of Mickey Mouse as seen in 'Steamboat Willie,'" and that "later versions of the character remain protected by copyrights":
"I'm seeing in Reddit forums and on Twitter where people — creative types — are getting excited about the possibilities, that somehow it's going to be open season on Mickey," said Aaron J. Moss, a partner at Greenberg Glusker in Los Angeles who specializes in copyright and trademark law. "But that is a misunderstanding of what is happening with the copyright."
The matter is more complicated than it appears, and those who try to capitalize on the expiring "Steamboat Willie" copyright could easily end up in a legal mousetrap. "The question is where Disney tries to draw the line on enforcement," Mr. Moss said, "and if courts get involved to draw that line judicially."
Only one copyright is expiring. It covers the original version of Mickey Mouse as seen in "Steamboat Willie," an eight-minute short with little plot. This nonspeaking Mickey has a rat-like nose, rudimentary eyes (no pupils) and a long tail. He can be naughty. In one "Steamboat Willie" scene, he torments a cat. In another, he uses a terrified goose as a trombone.
Later versions of the character remain protected by copyrights, including the sweeter, rounder Mickey with red shorts and white gloves most familiar to audiences today. They will enter the public domain at different points over the coming decades.
Two days after Inside the Magic published its misleading headline about Disney retiring Mickey Mouse, the website posted a new article that appeared to spell out the story in more of a clear manner.