The Copyright Expiration Free-for-All

Happy Thursday! In what sports fans across the globe are accurately calling a “dartbreaker,” 16-year-old Luke Littler’s unbelievable quest to become the youngest darts world champion ended yesterday. He was beaten by Luke Humphries, who, at 28 years old, had the unfair advantage of actually being allowed to drink in the pubs while practicing for the championship.

Quick Hits: Today’s Top Stories

  • Two explosions killed at least 80 people and wounded nearly 300 others on Wednesday at a ceremony in Kerman, Iran, commemorating the fourth anniversary of the killing of Quds Force commander Qassem Suleimani. No nation or organization has yet claimed responsibility for the attack, described by Iranian officials as an act of terrorism, and Tehran has not officially attributed blame. The Biden administration yesterday rejected any suggestion that either the U.S. or Israel was behind the bombing, later assessing that the Islamic State—a longtime enemy of the Shiite Islamic Republic of Iran—may have carried out the attack.
  • The United States, Australia, Bahrain, Belgium, Canada, Denmark, Germany, Italy, Japan, the Netherlands, New Zealand, Singapore, and the United Kingdom released a joint statement on Wednesday warning Yemen’s Iranian-backed Houthi rebels against further aggression against commercial ships in the Red Sea. “Ongoing Houthi attacks in the Red Sea are illegal, unacceptable, and profoundly destabilizing,” the statement read. “Let our message now be clear: we call for the immediate end of these illegal attacks and release of unlawfully detained vessels and crews. The Houthis will bear the responsibility of the consequences should they continue to threaten lives, the global economy, and free flow of commerce in the region’s critical waterways.” The statement followed reports that the U.S. and Britain were prepared to carry out airstrikes against the group if its maritime assaults didn’t stop. The Houthis have attacked at least 24 ships in the Red Sea since mid-November, disrupting the flow of international shipping through the busy waterway.
  • Ukraine and Russia exchanged more than 200 prisoners each, officials announced on Wednesday, marking the largest swap of the war. In total, 230 Ukrainians and 248 Russians were freed from captivity as part of a deal mediated by the United Arab Emirates (UAE). “Our people are home,” Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky tweeted. “Today, we returned over 200 warriors and civilians from Russian captivity. … I am grateful to our defenders. We are making every effort to return all of our people who are still in Russian captivity.” Though neither Russia nor Ukraine have revealed the exact number of prisoners of war held, more than 4,000 Ukrainians are still believed to be in Russian captivity. 
  • Ernest Bai Koroma, the former president of Sierra Leone, was charged with treason on Wednesday over his alleged involvement in an attempted coup in late November 2023. During the attack, gunmen assaulted a military base and several prisons in the nation’s capital of Freetown, freeing nearly 2,000 inmates and killing at least 20 people. Koroma’s trial is scheduled to begin on January 17.
  • House Speaker Mike Johnson led a delegation of nearly 60 House Republicans to the southern border in Texas on Wednesday to meet with federal and local officials about the ongoing migrant crisis. “One thing is absolutely clear: America is at a breaking point with record levels of illegal immigration,” Johnson said at a press conference held in Eagle Pass, Texas. “Today, we got a first-hand look at the damage and the chaos the border catastrophe is causing in all of our communities. … It is an unmitigated disaster, a catastrophe. And what’s more tragic is that it’s a disaster of the president’s own design.” According to ABC News and other sources, there were reportedly more than 300,000 migrant encounters at the border in December—the highest monthly number in U.S. history.
  • Former President Donald Trump formally asked the U.S. Supreme Court on Wednesday to overturn a Colorado ruling removing him from the state’s primary ballot. In appealing the Colorado Supreme Court’s decision, Trump’s lawyers argued that “the President is not ‘an officer of the United States’” under Section 3 of the 14th Amendment, and that he did not participate in an insurrection on January 6, 2021. “[The] Colorado Supreme Court decision would unconstitutionally disenfranchise millions of voters in Colorado and likely be used as a template to disenfranchise tens of millions of voters nationwide,” Trump’s lawyers wrote in the filing. Colorado’s secretary of state, Jena Griswold, asked the Supreme Court to consider the case “as quickly as possible” in a statement released Wednesday.
  • Job openings ticked down to 8.79 million in November, the Labor Department reported Wednesday, the lowest mark since March 2021. The numbers indicated that the labor market continues to cool, as the hires rate dropped slightly from 3.7 percent in October to 3.5 percent in November, while the quits rate—a sign of workers’ confidence in their ability to find new employment—fell to its lowest level in over three years, from 2.3 percent in October to 2.2 percent in November.

Mickey Mouse Breaks Free, Kind of

A still image from Disney's 'Steamboat Willie' that was the debut of Mickey Mouse is seen in a book on January 3, 2024 in Glendale, California. (Photo illustration by Mario Tama/Getty Images)
A still image from Disney's 'Steamboat Willie' that was the debut of Mickey Mouse is seen in a book on January 3, 2024 in Glendale, California. (Photo illustration by Mario Tama/Getty Images)

The new year is already shaping up to be volatile, with contentious major elections across the globe and escalating conflict in the Middle East and in Ukraine. On top of all that, we could see multiple Mickey Mouse slasher films this year, thanks to the copyright expiring on the famous 1928 “Steamboat Willie” cartoon featuring Mickey and Minnie. The early representation of the beloved Disney mascots entered the public domain on New Year’s Day—opening the floodgates for horror enthusiasts and spotlighting the oddities of American copyright law.

January 1 has become known in the copyright world as Public Domain Day—an occasion to mark the official release of films, books, music, and more for free public use after copyrights have lapsed. This year, books by Agatha Christie, Virginia Woolf, W.E.B. Du Bois, and Robert Frost, among others, became free to use. Charlie Chaplin’s film, The Circus, and music by Louis Armstrong, Ma Rainey, and Cole Porter also entered the public domain. (In addition to “Steamboat Willie,” Disney’s hold on the “Oswald the Lucky Rabbit” cartoons and the silent version of “Plane Crazy” also ran out).    

Artists and creators are now free to re-engage, recreate, and remix these works. “Community theaters can screen the films,” explained Jennifer Jenkins, the director of the Duke Center for the Study of the Public Domain who maintains a site dedicated to Public Domain Day. “Youth orchestras can perform the music publicly, without paying licensing fees. Online repositories such as the Internet Archive, HathiTrust, Google Books, and the New York Public Library can make works fully available online.” 

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