2019 ushers in a very important new era for the toy industry. After a 21 year lapse, intellectual property will again be entering the public domain. The law that put this into practice, the Copyright Term Extension Act (CTEA) also known as the "The Sonny Bono Law" (no kidding), has finally come to an end.
Under the law, IP is protected for 95 years after publication. That means that IP protection issued in 1923 and thereafter is no longer enforceable.
Mickey Mouse first appeared as "Steamboat Wille" in 1928, so in 2024 anyone can use the Steamboat Willie image without paying any royalties. They can display it, use it on merchandise and even create new stories featuring him. What they cannot do is use any versions of Mickey Mouse, Popeye or any other character created later. You have to wait for those future iterations to come into the public domain.
Other cartoon classics will follow. Here are just a few of them with the year they will enter the public domain:
Betty Boop 2026
Tom and Jerry 2028
Snow White 2035
Bugs Bunny 2037
Captain American 2038
What's available this year? Felix the Cat for one. Also, Laurel and Hardy, the Little Rascals, and the original Bambi, a Life in the Woods, written by Felix Salten and illustrated by Barbara Cooney.