New AI Model Unleashes Public Domain Mickey Mouse

Mickey-1928 can generate images of older versions of Mickey Mouse – just in time as Disney's copyright expired on Jan. 1.

Ben Wodecki, Jr. Editor

January 2, 2024

2 Min Read
Generated images of Mickey Mouse
Pierre-Carl Langlais

At a Glance

  • Disney's 'Steamboat Willie' short film, featuring Mickey Mouse, is now in the public domain as its copyright ended on Jan. 1.
  • Just in time, a French developer released an AI model trained on the short film to generate images of the iconic mascot.
  • The AI model, Mickey-1928, is a fine-tuned version of Stable Diffusion XL trained on 96 stills.

On New Year’s Day, Disney’s copyright covering its original 1928 Mickey Mouse short film − Steamboat Willie – expired and entered the public domain. Just in time, a French developer unleashed a new image generation model called Mickey-1928 that lets users create images of the original iconic Disney mascot.

That means users can now use AI to generate Steamboat Willie without penalty. The modern versions of Mickey, however, are still covered by copyright.

Mickey-1928 is a fine-tuned version of Stable Diffusion XL that has been trained on 96 stills from the film. Pierre-Carl Langlais, head of research at Opsci, a French AI research lab, built the model.

But the quality of the images generated by the model still needs to improve, as its outputs are impacted due to the lack of accessible high-quality versions of the cartoons, Langlais tweeted under the name Alexander Doria. The Hugging Face repository also said users “should not expect consistently good results” from the model.

“Hopefully the model should get better as Mickey really become(s) part of the digital commons, with more resources being curated/restored by cultural heritage institutions and free culture projects like Internet Archive or Wiki Commons,” Langlais said.

His model also can generate images of Minnie and Pete, the archnemesis of Mickey, who were in the film.

Related:Court Upholds Ban on AI Artwork Copyright

Using AI to ‘digitize’ 20th century culture

Micky and his fellow cartoon characters were expected to enter the public domain in the 1980s, but there were several term extensions. Langlais said that a “strong public domain would have been an elegant solution to the AI/copyright debate.”

Currently, AI images are not subject to copyright protections in the U.S. or most Western jurisdictions. China, however, is allowing copyright protections for AI-generated images following a recent landmark ruling.

Langlais said that large language models and diffusion models “would rather have created powerful incentives to digitize the collective culture of the 20th century.”

The work on Mickey-1928 is set to expand, with Langlais calling for contributions to track original Mickey posters from the late 1920s.

Read more about:

ChatGPT / Generative AI

About the Author(s)

Ben Wodecki

Jr. Editor

Ben Wodecki is the Jr. Editor of AI Business, covering a wide range of AI content. Ben joined the team in March 2021 as assistant editor and was promoted to Jr. Editor. He has written for The New Statesman, Intellectual Property Magazine, and The Telegraph India, among others. He holds an MSc in Digital Journalism from Middlesex University.

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