After decades of protection, several notable properties will enter the public domain in 2024 and beyond. That means you can use them without having to pay a licensing fee.
Most notably for the toy industry, these public domain characters include Mickey Mouse, Superman, Winnie the Pooh, Bambi, Batman, and Bugs Bunny.
Before you begin placing Batman logos on your toys, however, be mindful that the freedom to use these characters is limited to how they looked when they first appeared. You can, as an example, use Winnie the Pooh as he appeared in the original books but not how he looks in a Disney cartoon. You may notice that the original Mickey Mouse did not wear white gloves. That means that you cannot use white gloves on your Mickey Mouse.
You can use this image:
But not this one:
You can use this Mickey Mouse:
But not this one:
In addition, you cannot use any characters that the original artist or author did not create. So, you can’t use Winnie The Pooh’s friend Gopher because Disney, not Milne, was the creator.
In case you are interested in Superman, realize you can use the original inelegant “S,” but you don’t get to use the logo to which we have all become accustomed. And forget about Lex Luthor, at least for now. He will not be available until 2030.
Batman’s image has also changed since its inception. He didn’t have those cool gloves and appeared to be wearing wings rather than a cape. And if you look closely, you can see he is wearing a gun.
You will have to wait a few years, but the Looney Tunes characters will become available in the 2030s. Daffy Duck in 2033, and Bugs Bunny in 2035. Elmer had a red nose, and Bugs had a more elongated face than he does today.
It’s the beginning of a new era. Use these characters but double-check with your attorney before doing so. The major studios will be watching very carefully.
Batman picture source: DC Cohttps://arstechnica.com/tech-policy/2019/01/a-whole-years-worth-of-works-just-fell-into-the-public-domain/mics
I strongly caution all manufacturers to think carefully before selling products with these images after they are in the public domain. Being in the public domain may make it safe under copyright law to use in expressive works. However, when on products, expect these studios to take aggressive legal action citing trademark rights and consumer confusion against anyone selling unlicensed goods.