You might have seen that Winnie-the-Pooh hit the headlines this week.
The reason is that Hollywood actor, Ryan Reynolds, has satirised the bear in an ad for his telecommunications company, Mint Mobile.
How was he able to do this, I hear you ask?
The rule of thumb for most creative works in most countries is that the copyright lasts for 70 years from the end of the year in which the creator dies. When the artist dies, ownership of their copyright would typically pass to their estate (unless their will states otherwise).
However, under the US Copyright Term Extension Act, the copyright of the original Winnie-the-Pooh book published in 1926 has now expired. This means that, thanks to Public Domain Name on 1 January, any person or company can use any representation of Winnie-the-Pooh and friends from the original book for commercial (or any) purposes without having the consent of A.A Milne’s estate.
It is important to flag that this doesn’t apply to the Disney version of the bear or the original Tigger published in 1928 – these are still protected by copyright, although original Tigger enters the public domain in 2024.
Where previously you will have been well advised to avoid using famous cartoon or literary characters without the creator’s permission, you can now use the original Winnie-the-Pooh and friends in your Instagram posts and website, and you could even sell Winnie-the-Pooh t-shirts if you wanted to.
You might also want to check out what other creative works are public too!