Disney likely seeing copyrights to ‘Winnie the Pooh’ expire

Rabbit, Tigger, Eeyore and Winnie the Pooh pose at the premiere of "Winnie The Pooh" at Walt Disney Studios on July 10, 2011 in Burbank, California. (Alberto E. Rodriguez, WireImage/Getty Images)

A copyright law established in 1998 is about to effect a childhood treasure that has been around since 1926.

According to an article in USA Today, legendary characters Winnie the Pooh, Piglet, Eeyore, Kanga and Owl are going to enter the public domain, and not be under copyright protection from Disney.

Disney acquired the copyright to Winnie the Pooh books and its characters in 1961.

The characters first appeared in books by A.A. Milne in 1926, and under the Copyright Term Extension Act of 1998, a company’s copyright is protected for 95 years after its first publication.

Here’s what this development means:

  • As of this year, other companies besides Disney can use Winnie the Pooh stories and adapt him for new projects or creative works. The original line drawings from the book will also be “fair game,” according to USA Today.
  • Disney still owns the copyright to its version of Winnie the Pooh and characters it created based on Milne’s original stories. That means Disney will still own rights to the character “Tigger,” who first appeared in 1928.

Make no mistake, Winnie the Pooh remains a major cash cow for Disney. The brand generates between $3 billion to $6 billion of revenue annually, according to the article.

The article also said that Disney could try and extend the copyright to Winnie the Pooh, but legal experts feel that would be a “longshot.”

This could also just be the start of copyright issues for Disney and its iconic characters.

In two years, copyright protections are set to expire for the earliest version of Mickey Mouse, “Steamboat Willie,” which appeared in 1928.

About the Author:

Keith is a member of Graham Media Group's Digital Content Team, which produces content for all the company's news websites.