On Jan. 1st, also known as “Public Domain Day,” tens of thousands of new works enter the public domain every year.
The public domain consists of all creative work without intellectual property rights; in other words, anyone can use the creative works that exist in the public domain for almost any purpose.
In 2022, among the works that joined the public domain are the original stories and characters of A.A. Milne’s Winnie-the-Pooh. Now that these characters are in the public domain, anyone can use them for almost any purpose.
- A. Milne released the first Winnie-the-Pooh book in 1926 and owned the character for 40 years until Disney acquired the rights to Winnie-the-Pooh in 1966.
When Disney adapted the character, they made notable changes, mainly adding Pooh’s iconic red shirt. Disney still owns its version of the character – the familiar yellow bear wearing a red shirt – but Pooh’s original design is usable by everyone.
Other characters like Piglet, Eeyore, Rabbit and Christopher Robin also became free to use in their original likenesses on Jan.1st, but their Disney renditions remain under copyright.
Milne’s original 1926 Winnie-the-Pooh book did not introduce Tigger the Tiger, unlike other popular characters; he joined Pooh and his friends in 1928 after releasing “The House on Pooh Corner.” Tigger will not enter the public domain until 2024.
Disney’s hold on multiple “Winnie-the-Pooh” trademarks also disallows artists from selling or creating certain products, like stuffed animals, pencils and amusement park rides. The company also owns “Winnie-the-Pooh,” meaning creators can use the character, but not the name.
Some artists are already seizing the opportunity to use Winnie-the-Pooh’s likeness in ways they couldn’t before, like comic artist Luke McGarry, who created a comic depicting A. A. Milne’s Winnie-the-Pooh conversing with Christopher Robin. McGarry drew both characters in their original designs.
“Disney owns their version of me,” the Pooh in the comic explains, “but as long as I don’t put a little red shirt on, I can do as I like. Which suits me because I like being nude.” When Christopher Robin asks him if he will do anything weird, he responds, “that remains to be seen.” The comic, which he posted on Twitter, received over 41,000 Likes.
The popularity surrounding McGarry’s Winnie-the-Pooh comic has inspired other creators to depict Pooh in creative and unusual ways; for example, a Twitter user wrote, “Apparently Winnie-the-Pooh is public domain. I am giving Winnie the Pooh teeth.”