Winnie the Pooh – What happens to the copyright?

 

The 18th of January is the International Winnie the Pooh Day. The well-renowned work about the honey-loving teddy bear Winnie the Pooh by A.A Milne is protected by copyright in Europe and was protected by copyright in the US until midnight on New Year’s Eve 2021-2022. At that time, the original book became older than 95 years meaning it entered the public domain according to US copyright law.

On the 15th of February 2023, the film “Winnie the Pooh: Blood and Honey” is set to premiere. It is a film in an ENTIRELY different spirit than what we are used to seeing of the beloved teddy bear. Even if the copyright to the original work has expired in the US, The Walt Disney Company (who is the holder of the rights to Winnie the Pooh) has registered trademarks for, among others, the name “WINNIE THE POOH”. The question we ask is therefore, what action has Disney taken? Will Disney try to stop the film? And how will the production company behind the film respond? Will they change the title of the film?

Contrary to copyright (which according to Swedish law is valid from the creation of the work until 70 years after the death of the author), a registered trademark offers indefinite protection for a trademark, as long as the trademark is used. Hence, Disney, as well as other film- and entertainment companies, does not rely solely on the finite copyright protection, but also on complementary trademark registrations for their well-known characters, including Winnie the Pooh, to ensure its exclusive right to these characters.

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