On November 18, 1928 An upstart animator by a name you may recognize (Walt Disney) premiered a short called Steamboat Willy in New York City and a star was born.
Walt’s growing empire was hitched to the image and antics of Mickey Mouse and remains an important spokesperson today. Over the last several decades the Disney corporation has fought and won battles to keep the Mick from going into public domain. Currently works from 1928 are set to move into public domain in 2024.
The last extension was granted in 1998, but then the internet was in wet diapers and the hoi polloi did not have the easy means to make many memes. While I suspect Disney lawyers have a strategy to protect the Mouse from being accessible to the general public at all, the mood of the country and lawmakers has changed and they may not be successful.
I suspect it is one reason Disney has diversified so broadly, buying LucasFilms and other properties to dilute their dependence on animated rodents. However it is a law duly passed by Congress that every American who owns a mouse ear hat must wear it in celebration today. Luckily for me that is not part of my hat collection. Happy Birthday, Mickey Mouse!