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  • Writer's pictureDavid Baker

Oh bother. This is what happens when a copyright expires.

In today’s story, Winnie the Pooh is no longer scheming ways to get Rabbit’s stockpiled honey. Today, Pooh is an ax wielding mass murderer and his deranged little friend, Piglet, is right there beside him, helping add to the body count.

What? You don’t remember that storyline from A.A. Milne’s beloved stories about the English youth, Christopher Robin, and his stuffed animal friends who had come to life set in the Hundred Acre Wood or from the Walt Disney Company’s animated features based on those stories? Don’t worry. These are all new stories made possible by the expiration of the copyrights for Pooh and Piglet and, very soon, all the other characters from your childhood memories.

And to capitalize on that fact, an upcoming movie, Winnie the Pooh: Blood and Honey, written and directed by Rhys Frake-Waterfield, reimagines A. A. Milne’s characters as bloodthirsty abominations intent on a terrifying murderous rampage.

Winnie the Pooh has left the Hundred Acre Woods and has entered that terrifying place known and feared by all fictional characters as The Public Domain.

According to Frake-Waterfield, the horror film’s plot follows what happens when Christopher Robin leaves Pooh and Piglet to go to college. The two innocent, bumbling characters are neglected and have to learn to fend for themselves, eventually forcing them back to their animal roots and to become feral once more. Pooh and Piglet resort to hunting prey and eating their victims, even snacking on their woeful donkey friend Eeyore in order to survive.

Years later, Christopher return to his old stomping grounds with his wife only to discover that the innocence and happiness of his childhood have been replaced by his old friends’ hatred and resentment spilling over into a murderous rampage targeting college girls.

Whether you add the new film to your “must see” list, you may have to get used to perversions of fictional characters like Milne’s because every year thousands of creative works become part of the public domain. Once literary and artistic pieces are freed from intellectual property rights, anyone can use them, and create, publish, or distribute works based on them without securing a license.

But there is still some hope, albeit for a limited time.

The expiring copyrights for Pooh and Piglet are those from Milne’s first Winnie the Pooh book, published in 1926. However, Disney acquired rights to Milne’s characters in 1966 and soon created their own animated versions of them, versions that will be protected for quite some time. Even some of Milne’s original characters, like Tigger, will be protected for a while longer because they were not created until some years later.

Getting back to the new film, no specific release date has been given. But as you can see from the accompanying images, recent posters and stills from the film (which was shot in its entirety in just ten days) are very disturbing.

Welcome to The Public Domain, Pooh.

Why It Matters. Unlike childhood memories of favorite fantasy characters, copyrights do not last forever. They only last for the life of the creator plus 70 years (or so). And because characters like Winnie the Pooh, Piglet, and even Christopher Robin were created so long ago, their copyrights are expiring, many of them very soon. Even Mickey Mouse’s copyright is set to expire in 2024.

Previously, rich and powerful copyright owners, like the Walt Disney Company, have successfully lobbied Congress to extend copyrights so that they could continue to reap the sizable economic benefits associated with them. But even international entertainment behemoths like Disney only have so much clout. It, not unlike copyright duration, is finite.

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