MSCHF usually lives up to its name. Normally, the enigmatic Brooklyn-based collective's "drops" cheekily cut though consumer culture and the art world with little-to-no blowback. But the "Satan Shoes" launch it planned alongside Lil Nas X earlier this year went to hell in a handbasket — to put it mildly — after Nike's lawyers squashed the launch, eventually preventing any of MSCHF's sold-out Satan Shoes from officially seeing the light of day.
"Our lawyers advise us to say, 'Nike is a great company and we love them. We’re very grateful that they taught us about how big companies really operate and now we follow the law always,'" MSCHF quipped to Highsnobiety.
What's the natural follow-up to tangling with one of the world's wealthiest companies? Duking it out with Disney, a company that's many, many times wealthier than Nike.
Not that anyone's going to court, this time. MSCHF's latest mischief is a very saucy but very legal experiment with copyright law, a realm where Disney is infamously defensive.
As explained on MSCHF's "Famous Mouse" website, as the new project is called, Mickey Mouse's copyright will enter the public domain on January 1, 2024, when his copyright — or at least, the protection for his predecessor, Steamboat Willie — lapses.
In the late '90s, Disney successfully lobbied to extend copyrights, almost singlehandedly reshaping American law just to keep Mickey exclusive. Barring any new legal tricks in the next three years, though, Disney's exclusive license on Mickey may actually be limited.
"We know that as soon as Steamboat Willie lapses its copyright, the floodgates will be open," MSCHF said. "We wanted to cross the finish line first and, in order to really beat everyone to the punch, we had to cheat a little with an early start."
Though it goes live today, MSCHF's "Famous Mouse" drop won't actually exist until once Disney's copyright on Mickey disintegrates in 2024. In fact, MSCHF can't even legally say that it's creating anything that involves the media behemoth's signature character.
That doesn't matter, though, because "Famous Mouse" currently has nothing to do with that one well-known rodent.
"The concept for Famous Mouse is rooted in circumventing copyright law via a quasi-loophole enabled by conceptual art," continued MSCHF. "As such, by the nature of the project, we need to be super conscious of the legal issues at play. When a drop calls for it, we disregard the law; when a drop plays with the law, we pay attention to it!"
"Famous Mouse is looking for loopholes that are less favorable to corporations, instead of more. It’s amazing to think about people selling the idea of a Disney-free Mickey BEFORE he is actually free of Disney. It puts the mouse into the market."
What exactly is "Famous Mouse," then? It's merely a series of tokens, which sell on the Famous Mouse site for $100 apiece. They're useless now, but in 2024, the tokens will be redeemable for a collectible figure of a non-copyrighted cartoon character that was formerly the exclusive domain of Disney.
"The crux of the Famous Mouse project is that the idea IS the artwork, so from a literal perspective — and the one copyright law looks at — the object won’t be complete for three years, but from the perspective of this as an artwork it exists now," MSCHF said.
"It’s a durational artwork that exists over the next three years, not something that is 'fulfilled' later."
MSCHF did the legwork to ensure that a giant multi-national conglomerate wouldn't ruin its fun, unless Disney once again transforms copyright law (a realistic fear, given Disney's wealth).
Not that the collective regrets its scrape with Nike — "C&Ds are good," MSCHF laughed. "Start your collection today!" — but suffice to say that it isn't taking any chances.
And if you're an aspiring firestarter looking to poke the veritable bear, MSCHF commends you and offers a few words of caution.
"Get good lawyers ... Artists can at times get away with shit," MSCHF said. "But never delude yourself: law comes down to money. Even if you’re in the right by fair use, if you can’t afford to fight then you will lose."