Winnie the Pooh entered the public domain on January 1, 2022. The first book in the beloved franchise by Alan Alexander Milne was published on October 14, 1926. The work has been adapted to radio, theater, film, television, and video games over the course of the past 96 years.
Winnie the Pooh consists of several short stories about the eponymous bear. These include his exploits looking for honey, searching for the North Pole, and spending time with his friends Rabbit, Piglet, and Owl. Winnie the Pooh is well known for his mischief and hijinks.
The book went public alongside many others including The Sun Also Rises by Ernest Hemingway, The Weary Blues by Langston Hughes, and Enough Rope by Dorothy Parker. Several films like Battling Butler directed by Buster Keaton, The Temptress featuring Greta Garbo, The Son of the Sheik with Rudolph Valentino, and For Heaven’s Sake starring Harold Lloyd also had their copyrights expire, making them available to the public for almost any purpose.
Some of the earliest audio recordings are also about to be in the public domain. Something like 400,000 of these will be going public including music by Ethel Waters, Mamie Smith, Enrico Caruso, and Fanny Brice.
When something enters the public domain, any person is legally entitled to repurpose, reproduce, distribute, and disseminate the work without payment or permission by its previous owners. People can do pretty much whatever they want with a work — provided that it still exists. The long period of time necessary for something to enter the public domain means that works are often lost, abandoned, or even destroyed beforehand.
“The fact that works from 1926 are legally available does not mean they are actually available,” Director at the Center for the Study of the Public Domain at Duke University Jennifer Jenkins points out in a recent piece. “After 95 years, many of these works are already lost or literally disintegrating (as with old films and recordings), evidence of what long copyright terms do to the conservation of cultural artifacts.”
Winnie the Pooh may not have to face this fate, but many video games just might in the future. Preservation has only become a subject of conversation in recent years and most developers have taken few steps to ensure the survival of their products over the long term.