Disney retracts ‘Steamboat Willie’ YouTube copyright claim now that it’s public domain

by NEW YORK DIGITAL NEWS


This feels significant: Disney has officially retracted a copyright claim on a third-party’s Steamboat Willie video on YouTube.

On Thursday, Mashable reported that YouTuber and voice actor Brock Baker had uploaded a video to his channel with over 1 million subscribers which was almost immediately hit with a copyright claim from Disney.

Disney releases "Steamboat Willie" copyright claim

YouTube’s message to Brock Baker regarding Disney releasing the copyright claim on his “Steamboat Willie” upload.
Credit: Brock Baker

Baker’s video featured the entirety of the 1928 Disney animated short Steamboat Willie. He had remixed the film, which stars Mickey Mouse, with his own comedic audio track playing over the nearly 8-minute cartoon, and released it under the title “Steamboat Willie (Brock’s Dub).”

After being hit with the claim, Baker’s upload became demonetized, meaning the YouTuber could not make any money off of it. The claim also blocked the ability to embed the video on third-party websites. In addition, the YouTube video was given limited visibility, including being blocked from view entirely in certain countries. 

Baker disputed the copyright claim shortly after receiving it. His case appeared strong, as Steamboat Willie entered the public domain on January 1, 2024, allowing a broad range of creative usage of the film and its contents without Disney’s permission — including for profit.

He was successful.

“Disney released their claim and it’s now embeddable and shareable worldwide,” Baker told Mashable on Friday along with a screenshot of the email alert he received from YouTube letting him know the copyright claim was released.

“Good news! After reviewing your dispute, Disney has decided to release their copyright claim on your YouTube video,” reads the YouTube email message.

As a result of Disney pulling the claim, Baker’s video is now monetizable, embeddable, and viewable worldwide.

“I’m honestly glad it took 24 hours and not 30 days, still frustrating though,” Baker told us, referencing YouTube’s policies which gave Disney an entire month to respond to his dispute to their copyright claim. “I wish I knew what goes on behind the scenes.”

There has been lots of speculation online about what exactly can be done with Steamboat Willie that won’t draw the ire of or potential lawsuit from Disney, which still holds the trademark (which is different from a copyright) for uses of the iconic Mickey Mouse character in certain contexts. According to TechDirt, other Steamboat Willie videos have also reportedly received copyright claims over the past few days.

YouTube, for its part, historically asserts that it does not mediate copyright claims. It’s up to the copyright holder to make claims via its Content ID tool, and it’s up to uploaders to dispute those claims when they believe they were incorrectly made. According to YouTube, the responsibility to release claims on content that has fallen into the public domain is with the Content ID user, who in this case is Disney.

Based on how quickly Baker’s video was flagged, Disney’s copyright claim on his upload was likely automated, drawing from YouTube’s Content ID database. Mashable has reached out to Disney for more information and will update this piece if we hear back.

But, the way this has played out will likely be genuinely helpful to those looking to create new creative works based on the newly public domain title Steamboat Willie. By releasing the YouTube copyright claim on Baker’s video, Disney has made what could be its first official public action recognizing that Steamboat Willie along with this version of Mickey Mouse is indeed public domain.

In other words, content like Baker’s is allowed, with or without Disney’s input.





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