Copyright and Public Domain Issues with Winnie the Pooh: Blood and Honey

Copyright and Public Domain Issues with Winnie the Pooh: Blood and Honey

Andrew Masson is an IPilogue Writer and 2L JD candidate at Osgoode Hall Law School. 

I have not explored the comedy-horror genre much, but Director Rhys Waterfield's vision of a feral Winnie and piglet in the film Winnie the Pooh: Blood and Honey has intrigued me from a legal perspective. The IPilogue previously published about Winnie the Pooh entering the public domain when Ryan Reynolds created a fun viral commercial featuring the iconic original 1926 Winnie the Pooh. Ryan Reynolds's fun-loving commercial was generally well-received by the public, but some claimed that this would “ruin their childhood”.  

Purpose of Public Domain

Some may view this as the “darker” side of works entering the public domain, but the public domain is meant to be a wellspring for future creativity. Therefore, although some may find it distasteful, it does fit within the overall purpose of works entering the public domain. The Supreme Court of the United States held in Sony v Universal (1984) that copyrights are meant to be a “special reward” and that the “products of [creators] genius” would be made public after a “limited period of exclusive control.” The “limited periods” of copyright — now 70 years in Canada and 70 or 95 years in the US — is significant because most copyrighted materials loses its value at that point, and is rather at risk of being lost.

If copyrights were temporarily unlimited, then there may be a risk of material being physically lost because there is no way for it to be legally replicated.  Although advancements in digital storage and technology in the last few decades have minimized these concerns, a lot of materials in the 20th century were analog. This means that if the physical works were lost, damaged, or destroyed, those cultural artifacts would no longer exist. Additionally, analytical work has shown that works that entered the public domain compared to copyrighted best sellers of that time were significantly more likely to be in print, with more editions available, and cheaper in costs. Since most copyrighted work is not as popular as Winnie the Pooh, they do require 95-year copyright — the public domain acts as a resource to persevere the work as well as provide inspiration for creative uses of that work.

Is Winnie the Pooh: Blood and Honey Violating Disney’s Copyright?

Although policy reasons justify this film’s release, there is one significant distinction between the Ryan Reynolds interpretation and Director Waterfield’s. Disney owns the copyright to the post-1926, red-shirt wearing Winnie the Pooh, rather than the original shirtless Winnie the Pooh which entered the public domain. The still-shots, however, depict Winnie with a red plaid shirt. Disney has an alternative argument in that the film infringes on their copyrighted version. It is intriguing that the original Mickey Mouse is set to enter the public domain in 2024 so Winnie the Pooh: Blood and Honey could be a litmus test for how Disney will approach these copyright and public domain conflicts .