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A. A. Milne

What will enter the public domain in 2024?

Image: A. A. Milne created Winnie-the-Pooh and Piglet, two characters that entered the US public domain in 2023 | Public Domain

Back in May 2022, it was announced that two new cinematic slasher villains would soon be joining the blood-splattered ranks of Jason Vorhees, Michael Myers and Leatherface. Their names? Winnie-the-Pooh and Piglet.

The film in question, Winnie-the-Pooh: Blood and Honey gleefully ruined everyone’s childhoods by reimagining the cute inhabitants of the Hundred Acre Wood as feral monsters who start massacring humans after being abandoned by Christopher Robin. But just how did director Rhys Frake-Waterfield get away with making these beloved children’s characters smash people’s heads with sledgehammers and feed them into woodchippers?

Well, it’s all down to copyright law. Simply put, the copyright on any artistic work automatically elapses at a certain point, typically many decades after the death of the author (or principal creatives, in the case of films). After this point, the artistic work falls into the public domain, meaning anybody can go ahead and make commercial use of it without having to pay for licensing rights.

The length of copyright depends on the regulations of individual territories. For example, although the British copyright on A. A. Milne’s original 1926 Winnie-the-Pooh book will remain in place until 1st January 2027, over in the US it elapsed on 1st January 2022, prompting the Blood and Honey team to put their horror film into production.

So far, the existence of the British copyright doesn’t seem to have had any ramifications for Blood and Honey. The filmmakers have also successfully avoided incurring the wrath of Disney, which firmly holds the rights to its own versions of Pooh and friends as depicted in television shows, films and mountains of merch.

Anyone doing a Pooh (so to speak) will have to ensure their take on Milne’s creations looks different enough from the Disney versions to avoid being sued into oblivion. This explains why the makers of Blood and Honey were careful to make their psycho Pooh a hulking man-beast wearing a lumberjack shirt, bearing zero resemblance to his small, cuddly, t-shirted Disney counterpart.

But what other characters and properties will be ‘liberated’ on the next Public Domain Day, which will be 1st January 2024? Brace yourself for a plethora of weird, wonderful, and possibly terrifying reinterpretations of the following…


Conspicuously absent from the carnage of Blood and Honey is the Milne character who’d arguably be most predisposed to ripping unwary human beings apart. Namely, Tigger. And that’s because the irrepressible tiger first bounced into the world two years after the original Pooh book, in the 1928 volume The House at Pooh Corner.

As a work first published in 1928, the book will enter the public domain in the United States on 1st January 2024. Here in its native UK, the book – like the original Winnie-the-Pooh - will still be under copyright until 2027, but whether that will put off filmmakers featuring a sharp-toothed Tigger in any Blood and Honey sequels remains to be seen.

Mickey Mouse

Could Mickey Mouse – perhaps the most instantly recognisable pop cultural creation of all time, and the very symbol of the Disney media empire – really be about to enter the public domain? Well, yes and no.

On 1st January 2024, the copyright will elapse on the very first version of Mickey Mouse, who made his debut in the seminal 1928 cartoon Steamboat Willie. This original, black-and-white Mickey is small and spindly, with a rather pointy face and eyes with no pupils. He doesn’t wear gloves and he also doesn’t speak.

Anyone looking to create their own Mickey Mouse stories will be limited to using this version, as opposed to the later, more iconic iterations of the character. Saying that, he first donned gloves in a film that came out one year after Steamboat Willie, so a gloved Mickey Mouse should enter the public domain in 2025.

The matter is also complicated by the fact that Mickey Mouse is a trademarked character. Trademarks are more specific than copyright and are intended to protect a company’s brand within the marketplace. This means that third-party creatives must be very careful about how they promote any unofficial Mickey Mouse artistic works.

They may be wading into legal danger if they use the name ‘Mickey Mouse’ in their branding materials, or if there’s any likelihood of anyone mistaking their work for an official Disney product. In other words, you’d probably be on safer legal territory if you make an ultra-violent, utterly un-Disney-like horror film featuring a cleaver-wielding Mickey rather than a children’s cartoon. However, it’s still uncertain how trademark laws will be enforced once Disney’s most prized asset goes public.

The Man Who Laughs

It may not be quite as well known as the Walt Disney and A.A. Milne creations, but The Man Who Laughs – a silent film released in 1928 and coming into the US public domain in 2024 – has had a massive cultural impact still being felt today.

That’s because its main character – a tragic figure with a smile fixed permanently on his face – directly inspired the design of the Joker, Batman’s nemesis and arguably the most famous villain in popular culture.

Although a remake starring horror legend Christopher Lee was once talked about, a new version of this hugely influential film has yet to be attempted by Hollywood, so its entry into the public domain may well prompt some indie filmmaker to have a go.

Speaking of Batman, it’s worth noting the Caped Crusader himself will be entering the public domain in 2035, one year after Superman and two years before Wonder Woman. With so many iconic characters being ‘liberated’ from their original copyright holders, there’ll certainly be very interesting times ahead.