[Pooh] looked up at his clock, which had stopped at five minutes to eleven some weeks ago.
“Nearly eleven o’clock,” said Pooh happily. “You’re just in time for a little smackerel of something,” and he put his head into the cupboard. “And then we’ll go out, Piglet, and sing my song to Eyeore.”
from The House at Pooh Corner
written by A. A. Milne
illustrated by Ernest H. Shepard
Methuen & Co. Ltd., 1928
Happy New Year! And happy Public Domain Day to thousands of works published in the United States in 1928.
In the US, a work is protected for 95 years after publication. A. A. Milne published his second book about Pooh and his friends in 1928. Copyright protection extends in the US for 95 years after publication so, while Winnie the Pooh has enjoyed public domain status for a couple of years, Tigger only bounced into the public domain yesterday, 1/1/24.
Each country’s laws are different, though. The British copyright doesn’t expire until 70 calendar years after the author’s death. In Milne’s case will be January 1, 2027. And just because the text is now in the public domain, (in the US) the illustrations are not. Different laws govern visual art, sound recordings, and film recordings. Since 2020, short digital works like blogs can be copyrighted, also.
Copyright laws protect artistic creation. Fair use protects artists from others using their work. So, I began to worry about the quotes I’ve used to introduce each of my blogs for the past 8 and 1/2 years.
I think I’m okay.
First and foremost, I’ve never called the work my own. I always give attributions prominently. “Under the fair use doctrine of the U.S. copyright statute, it is permissible to use limited portions of a work including quotes, …” (copyright.gov)
Some places I checked said 50-100 words is permissible. Some said under 1,000. While there is no set acceptable word count, less is more in this instance. I hope if anyone has an issue with any of the quotes I’ve chosen to use, please know that my intention is to call attention to children’s literature and show that every subject under the sun and stars, earth, and sea is represented in at least one children’s book.
Arguably the most famous character to enter the public domain is Mickey Mouse as he appeared in his (and Minnie’s) debut in 1928’s Steamboat Willie. But copyright law is complex, complicated, and subject to interpretation. Mickey and Minnie still have lots of restrictions. You can find a discussion of what is allowable and not in this article by Jennifer Jenkins, Director, Duke Center for the Study of the Public Domain.
Her list of Books and Plays now in the public domain includes Wanda Gág’s Millions of Cats. It’s the oldest American picture book still in print. I used it in story time until I retired. The kids (and parents) still love it. I do too.
You’ll also find J. M. Barrie’s Peter Pan, the book, not the movie (The movie starring Mary Martin was released in 1960, so will enjoy many more years of copyright protection.)
Besides Books and Plays, Ms. Jenkins’s lists are highlights, not all-inclusive: Films; Musical Compositions; and Sound Recordings are here.
The public domain includes works whose copyright has expired or never existed. Some aspects of modern works like ideas, stock elements, and unoriginal material are not copyrightable. They begin their lives in the public domain.
Protecting original work from use by people who did not create that work ensures the creators freedom to dream wildly, without fear of someone else profiting financially or from their reputation for a set number of years. The laws have been extended twice in the recent past.
It stands now at 95, plus 70 after the author’s death).
But, says the International Federation of Library Associations and Institutions (IFLA) in a 2007 article, the public domain “is the major source of inspiration, imagination and discovery for creators.”
Examples of creators using works found in the public domain include many, many of Walt Disney’s works. He retold tales of the Grimm Brothers (Snowwhite and others) Perrault (Cinderella) and J. M. Barrie (Peter Pan)..The hit play Rent is based on La Bohème by Giacomo Puccini. West Side Story a modern retelling of Shakespeare’s Romeo and Juliette.
Many classic pieces of literature have been digitized and made available to everyone with access to the internet. Louisa May Alcott’s Little Women has been turned into a successful movie, twice.
Fairy tales and folk tales have inspired too many new works to mention. While a long life under copyright protection might seem like a good thing for society’s creators, most rights are not executed.
Film rights to Willy Wonka and the Chocolate Factory by Roald Dahl (1964) were purchased from the author. The work has sparked the imagination of Paul King. He wrote Wonka’s origin story and together with Simon Farnaby developed a screen play showing now.
Ninety-five years plus 70 more after the death of the creator is a long time in anyone’s book.
I’m reading The Other Side of the Island by Allegra Goodman (2009, Penguin Young Readers Group/Razorbill). It’s a dystopian story that takes place 18 years after the (next) Great Flood. Earth Mother is in charge of the world that has been destroyed by humans like us. The parents of our main character are Free-thinkers and at risk of being “disappeared.” This is my first children’s book by Goodman who is a National Book Award finalist for her adult fiction.
Be curious! (and read wildly)
FB: The calendar page is turned. The days are getting longer. And I’m going to bounce into the kitchen for a delicious little smackerel of breakfast. Wishing everyone a happy, health, and creative 2024!