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After entering the public domain, Mickey Mouse turns into a homicidal maniac

LEILA FADEL, HOST:

It didn't take long to turn Mickey Mouse into a homicidal maniac. An early version of the famous cartoon character entered the public domain on Monday, and already there's a trailer out for a new horror movie called "Mickey's Mouse Trap."

(SOUNDBITE OF FILM, "MICKEY'S MOUSE TRAP")

UNIDENTIFIED ACTOR #1: (As character) There's blood all over the jungle gym.

UNIDENTIFIED ACTOR #2: (As character) Tina, turn around. Please...

A MARTÍNEZ, HOST:

Even the world's most famous mouse is not safe from an expired copyright. Timothy Lee is a journalist who's written about copyrights and public domain. He says copyright law is actually spelled out in the U.S. Constitution, Article 1, Section 8.

TIMOTHY LEE: Congress shall have the power to promote the progress of science and the useful arts by securing to authors and inventors the exclusive right to their writings and discoveries.

FADEL: The Constitution's authors specified the copyright should last for 28 years, but that law was extended and revised several times in the last century.

MARTÍNEZ: Which is why you're only recently starting to see some famous old characters with brand-new lives. Netflix, for example, puts Sherlock Holmes and his sister into a new series.

(SOUNDBITE OF FILM, "ENOLA HOLMES")

MILLIE BOBBY BROWN: (As Enola Holmes) My name is Enola Holmes. I started a detective agency.

FADEL: And while the descendants of some creators argue for extending copyrights, Lee says he'd like to see works enter the public domain faster.

LEE: I think it would be better to have shorter copyright terms, and I don't necessarily think people should be able to control what happens, like, long after they're dead.

MARTÍNEZ: But are you ever really dead if your work lives on as a horror movie villain? Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

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