Thanks to Winnie Pooh accidentally terrifying a class full of fourth graders in the new horror film, Winnie the Pooh: Blood and Honey, the question on everyone’s mind is when can we expect a field day on more beloved characters as they enter the public domain. Pretty soon, actually!
Tigger has already been added to the Blood and Honey sequel thanks to his copyright expiring in 2024, but he’s not the only Disney character on the menu. In what will surely be a maelstrom of legal actions, Mickey Mouse will also enter the public domain next year. John Oliver already had some fun with this topic during an April episode of Last Week Tonight, but he also made sure to prepare everyone to get their pants sued off due to the very specific nature of Mickey’s entry into the public domain.
Only the Steamboat Willie version of Mickey will be available and Disney will no doubt try to find ways to protect its most beloved trademark.
“Basically, they may argue that this early Mickey’s image is so closely associated with their company that people automatically assume that any image of him was produced or authorized by them and still take legal action.” Oliver continued, “The fact is anyone wanting to use the Steamboat Willie Mickey Mouse will probably still be taking a risk.”
Fast Company also made it a point to highlight that while hugely popular characters will be entering the public domain, there will be restrictions as to how they can be used. Take, for example, Superman who will hit the public domain in 2033. At least, the original Action Comics version will:
Were I to make my own Superman movie in 2033, my Superman wouldn’t be allowed to fly, as Grunge notes. Why? Because the Superman of Action Comics in 1938 didn’t process the power of flight—he could merely “leap tall buildings in a single bound.” If I had Superman fly in my 2033 film, Warner Bros. would have a valid case against me since DC Comics gifted Superman flight power later in the character’s mythology—and they would still own the copyright over that version of Superman, since 95 years hasn’t passed since Superman was granted flight. Also, the iconic “S” chest emblem on Superman’s 1938 costume looked different than in later years. My film’s version of Superman’s costume would need to look nearly identical to his costume in Action Comics #1 and not as he looks in comic books today or in Warner Bros. movies.
So, yes, these characters will be available for use, but with caveats. That said, Winnie the Pooh is already out here murdering people, so are there still plenty of creative opportunities in the mix.
Here’s a list of popular characters that will hit the public domain within the next few years, and our eyes definitely went wide at the names available in the 2030s:
Mickey Mouse (2024)
Donald Duck (2029)
James Bond (2034)
The Flash — Jay Garrick version (2035)
Captain America (2036)
Wonder Woman (2036)
And here’s a list of books on their way to the public domain:
Little House on the Prairie (2027)
Murder on the Orient Express (2029)
Gone With the Wind (2031)
The Hobbit (2033)
The Sword in the Stone (2033)
The Grapes of Wrath (2034)