Does Disney own Winnie the Pooh or is it in the public domain?
A new Winnie the Pooh film takes the well-known character into new depths as the head of a murderous gang with Eeyore and Piglet.
Winnie the Pooh: Blood and Honey has had its first official trailer drop. it features the famous band of animals turned feral monsters fixated on punishing Christopher Robin for abandoning them.
Yes, doesn’t seem like your normal Pooh tale.
That’s because of a change in the state of the Winnie the Pooh copyright.
Winnie the Pooh is in the public domain
The characters of A. A. Milne’s 1926 classic Winnie the Pooh are free to use legally without repercussion. US copyright law means that works of authors are avalable to use either 70 years after the author’s death or 95 years after publication. In the case of Pooh, it is the latter.
That does not mean that every character is free to use. Characters introduced in follow-up books like The House at Pooh Corner cannot be used until 2023 which means Tigger, the jumping Tiger, will not appear in the film.
However, not all of the character is the public domain. Aspects of Pooh’s appearance like his red shirt remain trademarked by Disney, even if the character itself isn’t. This is due to differences in American law between trademark and copyright. Copyright can never be reintroduced but trademarks can be applied for and renewed.
What has happened to other famous characters and copyright?
2024 will be the final year that Disney would have a near-monopoly on their iconic character Mickey Mouse. When the copyright protection expires in 2024, Mickey will enter the public domain.
While not using US copyright law, a similar situation happened with the character of Sherlock Holmes. While a number of Arthur Conan Doyle’s stories remain under copyright in the US, due to their release date, UK copyright law lasts for 70 years instead of the US’s 80. The detective has been in the public domain in the UK since the end of 1980.
This has led to some not so successful adaptations of the character, including flops such as Gnomeo and Juliet sequel Sherlock Gnomes and Will Ferrell ‘comedy’ Holmes and Watson. What the ruling could end up meaning is the end of Mickey Mouse as we know him, and open the door for creators to take the character in bizarre and hopefully interesting directions.