For a long, long time, the holy grail of copyright has been Mickey Mouse. In 1998, as Disney's copyright in the character was about to lapse, the company furiously lobbied Congress to extend copyright protection — which they did, with the Sonny Bono Copyright Term Extension Act (or, as it's called by opponents, the Mickey Mouse Act), which pushed Mickey's entry into the public domain back another twenty years.
But now legal scholars — acting on a discovery by a disgruntled ex-Disney archivist — are arguing that the copyright on the first Mickey Mouse cartoon, Steamboat Willie, might be null and void owing to sloppiness in that film's title card.
Disney, of course, doesn't think this is nearly as hilarious as we do, denying repeatedly that there's any uncertainty about Mickey's copyright — and even threatening one curious law student with a slander suit if he published his research. All in all, it's a pretty damning case that Mickey — or at least 1939 Mickey with his ugly, ratlike face — is free and clear. Who's ready to see Mickey Mouse T-shirts in porny American Apparel ads?