Two major children’s works are entering the public domain in 2022. “Winnie the Pooh” by A.A. Milne and “Bambi, a Life in the Woods by Felix Salten. This means that The Walt Disney Company no longer has an exclusive on these properties.
But those who do create new stories, books, video games, or animated features will need to be careful. Here is how Jennifer Jenkins, Director of the Center for the Study of the Public Domain at Duke University, describes the parameters in her NPR interview by Sarah McCammon:
MCCAMMON: What does it really mean for some of these works and characters like Bambi and Winnie-the-Pooh to enter the public domain? What exactly is now becoming fair game?
JENKINS: So Disney still has copyrights over its newer, for example, Winnie-the-Pooh movies. Now, they also have trademarks for the use, for example, of the words Winnie-the-Pooh as a brand. We’re not talking about sticking Disney’s Winnie-the-Pooh on a backpack or pajamas or a lunchbox. We’re talking about that piece of literary work, that gentle book by A. A. Milne from 1926. That’s in the public domain, and we can all revisit, reimagine, write our own version of it.
Skyler Shuler adds more information in his The DisInsider article, “Winnie-The-Pooh’ Officially Enters Public Domain; What This Means For Disney.”
Under the “The Mickey Mouse Protection Act,” Disney would keep their own creations from the Hundred Acre Woods. Studios will not be able to use Tigger … still under Disney ownership for a few more years. Disney owns the copyright for their Winnie The Pooh so any adaptations born out of the book entering the public domain can not closely resemble those in the Magic Kingdom. Characters and setting created exclusively by Disney cannot be used as well, including Gopher for example, as he was a created for Walt Disney’s cartoons and not featured in the book.
So, create away but tread carefully.
In case you love great literature, some other works (not for children) moving into the public domain this year include Agatha Christie’s The Murder of Roger Ackroyd, Ernest Hemingways The Sun Also Rises, T.E. Lawrence’s Seven Pillars of Wisdom, and Franz Kafka’s The Castle.