The new year is bringing some major changes to the Disney parks. From upcoming attractions to new technology, there’s always something new around the corner. 2022 marked the end of Disney’s Magical Express, the start of a new Star Wars story, and a whole new era of vacationing in Disney World. But some other changes are happening outside the Disney parks that we need to discuss!
January 1st was Public Domain Day, meaning that a slew of copyrights from 1926 expired and are now classified as public domain. Why does this matter? A few famous stories we know and love are now able to be published, modified, and performed by ANYONE without having to pay a licensing fee.
Let’s talk copyright
In the past, we’ve discussed what will happen in 2024 when Disney’s copyright ownership of Mickey Mouse expires. Disney has lobbied to keep Mickey Mouse protected for decades, extending the corporate copyright protection to 95 years with the “Mickey Mouse Protection Act.”
In the meantime, however, some other classic stories just reached an important moment in time. Starting on January 1st, 2022, two beloved stories are now open to the public for creative use, including the original versions of Bambi and Winnie-the-Pooh. Keep in mind that we’re only talking about the ORIGINAL versions of these stories, not the Disney movies!
It is important to note that Disney did not create the original story for Bambi or Winnie-the-Pooh. In fact, Disney acquired the rights to A.A. Milne’s Winnie-the-Pooh books in 1961 — over three decades after their original publishing. The only version of Winnie-the-Pooh and friends that are able to be reproduced are the original versions created by A.A. Milne. This means that Disney’s version of these characters is still protected. In other words, A.A. Milne’s 1926 story of Winnie-the-Pooh is the only version that is now public domain.
Additionally, Tigger was not introduced until a later story published in 1928, meaning he will enter the public domain in 2024. The original Winnie-the-Pooh story featured only Winnie-the-Pooh, Piglet, Eeyore, Rabbit, Kanga, Roo, Owl, and Christopher Robin. Only those eight characters are now in the public domain, according to reports.
An article published by USA Today states that the Winnie-the-Pooh story contains one of the most valuable sets of characters owned by Disney. The franchise has reportedly earned the Walt Disney Company more than $80 billion in total.
The original Bambi story, titled Bambi, A Life in the Woods was written by Austro-Hungarian author Felix Salten. This 1926 story is now public domain as well, meaning only Salten’s version of Bambi is available for public use.
Disney used Salten’s story as the inspiration for their 1942 film adaptation, which we all know as Bambi. Once again, only the original version of Bambi is considered public domain. Disney’s 1942 version of Bambi is still protected and owned by Disney.
What does this mean?
Although the orginal stories of Winnie-the-Pooh and Bambi are now public domain, there are still some restrictions to what people can and cannot do with these characters.
Disney’s Winnie-the-Pooh characters are trademarked by the Walt Disney Company, as are the Bambi characters. Anyone looking to create original or modified work with Bambi or Pooh can ONLY use the characters from the original 1926 story. Disney also still owns both the original version of Tigger and their variation of his character; his copyright does not expire until 2024.
Trademark laws are completely different than copyright laws and protect Disney’s characters from being copied. Technically, Disney has the potential to try and extend Winnie-the-Pooh and Bambi’s copyright, though experts believe that Disney would not succeed. It will be interesting to see how things play out in 2024, as Mickey Mouse is one of the first major original characters created by Walt Disney that could enter the public domain. Be sure to stay tuned to stay up to date on any future developments.
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What do you think about this important development? Let us know in the comments!