• Public domain tripping hazards from
    Winnie the Pooh to Frankenstein

Winnie the Pooh is entering the public domain this year, so get ready for a spree of Poohbear stories hitting the ground very soon. Content creators have to be careful, though, and keep in mind exactly *what* is now available.

Winnie the Pooh vs Winnie-the-Pooh

The most important thing to remember is that Disney’s depiction of Winnie the Pooh is still under copyright. It’s only the character from the original A.A. Milne book that has entered the public domain.

If you’re wondering what the difference is, here’s a few things to keep in mind:

  • Only the first of Milne’s four books has entered the public domain so far. Any stories or attributes added in future books are still protected.
  • A.A. Milne’s original bear was nude as a jaybird. The iconic red shirt was added in the 1930s and included in Disney’s interpretation.
  • Disney’s depiction was often depicted as more of a bear with a life of his own, whereas the original was quite literally a stuffed teddy bear. In the original stories, Christopher Robin would tell stories to Pooh Bear as a framing device, creating a story where Winnie the Pooh was the star of the show.
  • A small detail is that A.A. Milne also spelled it as Winnie-the-Pooh, it was Disney that removed the hyphens.

Don’t touch that Tigger!

Another key point to remember is that while the rest of Pooh’s core group has entered the public domain with him, Tigger hasn’t. Tigger wasn’t in the original book and was only introduced in the sequel a few years later. Tigger fans will have to wait a few more years to get hold of that bad boy.

Winnie the Pooh as realised by Disney
Pooh and Piglet as drawn by E.H. Shepard

This isn’t the first time such a convoluted property has hit the public domain. Here are a few other public domain tripping hazards…

The Wizard of Oz

Frank Baum’s original book, The Wonderful Wizard of Oz, was first published in 1900, but if you want to make something Ozish make sure to pay attention to the differences between the book series and the definitely-still-copyrighted movie by MGM.

The most notable difference is that in the book the ruby slippers were actually silver. Also, in the movie, Oz was all just a dream. In the book, it’s heavily implied that Oz was a real place and the whole adventure did actually happen.

Alice in Wonderland

Coming back to Disney again, Alice in Wonderland is another case of the original characters and books being in the public domain, but obviously not Disney’s interpretation. It’s a bit difficult to separate the two in this case, as the movie did include a lot from both of the Alice books with only slight changes. For example, in the books everyone could see the Chesire Cat but in the movie only Alice could. Keep in mind, though, the differences in the character design.

Sherlock Holmes

Sherlock Holmes is a rare case of a very specific version of the character entering public domain. The stereotypical version of Sherlock that most people know of (i.e. the cold, analytical, focused version) is public domain. However, later in the book series, Sherlock caught feelings and started developing emotional intelligence. Since this was introduced later in the series, this new and evolved version of Sherlock was still protected by copyright. Productions, including Netflix’s recent Enola Holmes movie, have gotten into hot water for showing an emotional and caring version of the character.

Frankenstein

This one is a really interesting case because Mary Shelley’s original book actually contained very little description of Frankenstein’s monster and the scene in which he is brought to life. This means that most of the mental image that society has of the monster is derived from Universal’s first movie.

Some of the aspects that were introduced by Universal include:

  • Green skin
  • Flat top head
  • A scar on his forehead
  • Bolts on the neck
  • Protruding forehead

The iconic scene of the creation of Frankenstein with lightning and maniacal laughter also didn’t exist in the book.

Long story short, the public domain isn’t always as public as you might think and it’s best to do your homework. I don’t want to see any green Frankenstein Poohbears with ruby slippers matching his red shirt.