Winnie the Pooh Is Now Public Domain, but Not as You Know Him

Winnie the Pooh Is Now Public Domain, but Not as You Know Him
Image: Winnie the Pooh

Good news, folks, Winnie the Pooh is public domain now, meaning you can use the character from A.A. Milne and Ernest Hemingway’s classic 1926 novel in stories, merch and more.

What does this mean? You might have been always able to have Winnie the Pooh holding a gun in a slash fic uploaded to fanfiction.net, but now the character itself is free to use in any fictional setting (according to U.S. copyright law).

This is, however, a little bit confusing. Though U.S. law indicates that works surpassing the 95-year mark enter the public domain for free use in any profiting medium (unless there’s corporate involvement), the Winnie the Pooh you use in your work is going to be significantly different to the Winnie the Pooh you know and love.

What does that mean? There are variants of Winnie the Pooh? Yeah, afraid so. You might be familiar with the Disney rendition of Winnie the Pooh, the loveable lazy yellow bear in a red shirt, no pants in sight. That Pooh might sport the familiar name, but that’s actually the property of Disney. It’ll continue to be so for some time, too.

That means if you use the Winnie the Pooh that has appeared in Disney films, TV shows or books, or any Disney property, you run the risk of legal action with one of the biggest media companies in the world.

Not a good thing, something you’d want to avoid if you’re wanting to create a wholesome work with a lazy bear. Adding extra confusion to the mix, Disney actually does own the rights to the Winnie the Pooh books – it just doesn’t have the power to hold up the copyright of them anymore.

So what makes the Winnie the Pooh you can actually use so different from the Winnie the Pooh that could land you in a thousand-dollar court battle? Well, there’s one key difference between Original Pooh and Pooh: Disney Edition.

winnie the pooh public domain
Image: Advertising Archive/Courtesy Everett Collection

The bear of Disney fame is more alive on its own terms, living in its own little house with its own little life with its own little friends, silly and being lazy all day, whereas the original Pooh bear was more… stuffed. As in he was a literal toy, belonging to Christopher Robin.

Christopher Robin would tell stories to the stuffed Pooh Bear, creating a story-in-a-story world, where Winnie the Pooh was the star of the show.

There are other differences, but that’s the big one to consider, Twitter artists. Don’t go drawing your OC’s hanging out with the Disneyfied version of Winnie the Pooh, now.

Anyway, happy 2022 to you. Please don’t turn Winnie the Pooh into an NFT.