John Oliver Dares Disney to Sue Over His Mickey Mouse Mascot
HBO Max’s Last Week Tonight has a “brand new character for the show” and damned if it doesn’t come with two huge black ears, big-buttoned pants, and a goofy grin. John Oliver was pleased as punch to introduce his new friend to viewers last … wait, is that the sound of Disney lawyers pounding on the studio door?
Probably, but it’s not clear they can do anything about Oliver (or anyone else) using this particular version of Mickey Mouse since Disney is about to lose its copyright on the original Steamboat Willy character after 95 years. Technically, early versions of the mouse don’t enter the public domain until next year, but Oliver and Last Week Tonight are “staking our claim to Mickey Mouse right now.”
Oliver is doing a goof (... right?) but he knows Disney isn’t going down without a fight. The only reason the Steamboat Willy version isn’t already in the public domain is because mouse attorneys successfully got a bill passed in the early 2000s to extend Disney’s rights. And now, the company’s legal eagles will likely argue that “this early Mickey’s image is so closely associated with their company that people automatically assume that any image of him was produced or authorized by them” — meaning Disney will likely sue the short pants off of anyone who tries to appropriate any version of the mouse.
Yikes! So how can Oliver claim Mickey as his show’s new mascot? “The fact is anyone wanting to use the Steamboat Willie Mickey Mouse will probably still be taking a risk but if you know anything about (Last Week Tonight) by now, we do like to take a risk every now and then.”
And for Disney lawyers who claim the mouse is too closely associated with their brand? Buckle up, says Oliver: “They should know that he’s pretty associated with our brand now too, and not just because I have a general vibe that screams ‘95-year-old rat-faced idiot.’”
But Oliver wasn’t nearly done making his own HBO attorneys reach into the medicine cabinet for extra-strength Excedrin. You see, Oliver didn’t merely trot out Mickey images — the mouse can talk too! (Oliver: “Come to think of it, is your voice public domain yet?” Mickey: “I guess you’ll find out!”) Last Week Tonight Mickey tried out some new catchphrases last night, such as: “Jeffrey Epstein didn’t kill himself!”
And another sure-to-be favorite line: “Where’s Shelly Miscavige?”
There was nothing for Oliver to do about that rascally rat except shrug and exclaim, “There he goes again!” Just to dig this hole good and deep, the comedy host also told viewers he'd soon be selling Mickey mascot costumes, good for “birthday parties, theme park openings, funerals, sex dungeons – basically, whatever you want to use it for.”
If we were Oliver, we’d use one of those mouse masks to hide from the sheriff trying to serve the inevitable subpoenas.