AUSTIN (KXAN) — Creative minds can now freely adapt the original Winnie-the-Pooh book without fear of violating intellectual property laws.
As of Jan. 1, A.A. Milne’s book, Winnie-the-Pooh, published in 1926 is officially in the public domain as copyright protections expired after 95 years following publication. Characters from the book — including Pooh Bear, Eeyore, Rabbit, Piglet, Kanga, Roo, Owl and Christopher Robin — as well as the plot, dialogue and settings from the book can be posted online or adapted by anybody who wants to, according to Duke University’s Center for the Study of Public Domain.
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“Anyone can adapt the 1926 book into a play, musical, or film, or write a prequel or sequel,” the center said. “Want to write a story about how Pooh and friends stay sane during a pandemic? (Eat more honey!) Or a story in which Pooh and friends tackle online bullying? Now you can, without having to seek a license from Disney. This is how the public domain supports creativity.”
According to the center, Disney still owns copyrights for “newly-added” material to the franchise, like Tigger. The exuberant stuffed tiger that enjoys bouncing around everywhere wasn’t introduced until Milne’s 1928 book, “The House at Pooh Corner,” so Disney still owns Tigger for a couple more years.
The center explained how Disney obtained the copyrights to build the franchise. After Milne sold rights to Stephen Slesinger, known as the “father of the licensing industry,” in 1930, his heirs transferred some of the rights to Disney after his death. Slesinger was the first person to draw the bear with a red shirt and he was the first to develop merchandise and other marketing for the franchise.
An 18-year legal battle between the Slesinger family and Disney eventually ended in 2009 with Disney owning all the copyrights to the franchise. The center explained that Disney could attempt to retain rights to the original book, but also pointed out how much Disney has benefitted from the public domain by adapting a multitude of their movies from materials in it.
Other notable books that entered the public domain at the beginning of the year include “The Sun Also Rises,” the first book by Ernest Hemingway, “The Seven Pillars of Wisdom,” by T.E. Lawrence that was later adapted to be the movie “Lawrence of Arabia,” and Felix Salten’s “Bambi, A Life in the Woods,” which Disney adapted to the movie we all know as simply, “Bambi.”