Mickey Mouse as Steamboat Willie in Deal with It Meme

Disney (Public Domain) Linzi Silverman

‘Steamboat Willie, no!’: Memes of Disney’s original version of Mickey Mouse committing atrocities flood web after copyright expires

Memes, horror movies, and video games are already being created.


Mikael Thalen


Posted on Jan 2, 2024

The first version of Disney’s Mickey Mouse, which appeared in the 1928 animated short Steamboat Willie, has lost its copyright protection.

Although Disney successfully fought to keep the character copyrighted for 95 years, the public, as of Jan. 1, 2024, can now freely use the original version of the cartoon mouse.

Disney is fiercely protective of its copyrights, recently butting heads with artificial intelligent image generators that were producing its logo. But despite its efforts, it couldn’t keep Steamboat Willie from falling into the hands of the public.

Memes featuring the character immediately began flooding the internet as clocks struck midnight across the U.S.

Unsurprisingly, many online rushed to create the most controversial memes they could in celebration of Disney’s loss.

In one example, the character and his steamboat were seen crashing into the World Trade Center.

“Steamboat Willie, no!” one user joked. “(This is legal now.).”

Another example shows Mickey with an automatic rifle while calling on his enemies to “Come get me, bitches.”

“Happy New Year! COME GET YOUR WILLIE!” one animator wrote.

But it wasn’t just memes flooding social media.

A horror film based on Steamboat Willie, which, according to Variety, “centers on a sadistic mouse tormenting unsuspecting ferry passengers,” is set to begin production in spring.

Not only that, video game creators have been preparing for this moment as well.

One such game, known simply as MOUSE, had its first gameplay trailer reveal in December. Footage of the game has gone viral once again online now that Disney’s character is in the public domain.

“Now that Disney is losing the copyright on the early Mickey Mouse we will see an explosion of new things being made,” one user on X wrote. “Like this game, MOUSE. First person shooter, that I’d love to play.”

Another game titled Infestation 88 is also in the works and will see the original Mickey hunt players in a horror-themed setting.

But the situation surrounding the original Mickey Mouse also caused some confusion.

Many online appear to incorrectly believe that all versions of the character are now in the public domain. However, uses of more recent versions of Mickey Mouse are still copyrighted by Disney.

In a public statement, Disney also confirmed that not all versions of its characters had been released from copyright.

“More modern versions of Mickey will remain unaffected by the expiration of the Steamboat Willie copyright, and Mickey will continue to play a leading role as a global ambassador for the Walt Disney Company in our storytelling, theme park attractions, and merchandise,” a spokesperson said. “We will, of course, continue to protect our rights in the more modern versions of Mickey Mouse and other works that remain subject to copyright.”

Either way, don’t be surprised in the coming weeks and months if your feed continues to be bombarded with Steamboat Willie content.

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*First Published: Jan 2, 2024, 8:59 am CST