This is not an IP-parition (haha) but another spooky themed IP blog post to celebrate the month of October! Today we will be covering copyright in different jurisdictions and copyright expiration (ghost noises ensue).


In the UK, the details of copyright protection are laid out in the Copyright, Designs and Patents Act 1988 (CDPA). The CDPA states that copyright protection subsists in “original literary, dramatic, musical, or artistic works” – see Section 1(a) – and this protection is automatic upon the creation of the work without the necessity to register the work with the UK intellectual property office (UKIPO). For books (adaptations of which we will be discussing in today’s post), copyright protection lasts for the life of the author plus 70 years (in the UK). Prior to this, anyone wanting to adapt a book into a film will need to have a license from the owner of the copyright.

However, once copyright protection expires on a book then that book becomes part of the public domain. At this point, anyone is free to do any of the acts that were originally the exclusive rights of the copyright owner[1]. This includes being able to adapt the book without a license. For example, the works of William Shakespeare are in the public domain which allows for kid-friendly adaptations of his most famous works. The works of Charles Dickens, for example, are also in the public domain in the UK.


Oliver Twist – frontispiece and title page (first edition)

In the United States of America (USA), copyright protection is detailed in The Copyright Act of 1976. Due to a number of international agreements and common law principles, the copyright law of the USA is very similar to that of the UK with a few minor differences. Given the topic of this blog and the title, we will discuss a little further the differences in public domain rules between the UK and the USA. In the UK, all copyrighted work enters the public domain 70 years after the death of the author regardless of when the work was created. In the USA, however, there are different rules depending upon when the work was created. For all works created after 1st January 1978 then the public domain rules are the same as those in the UK. For works created before that date there are a number of different rules, but one rule relevant for todays blog post is that any work published before 1928 is already in the public domain in the USA[2].

Given that it is spook-tober, we have decided to delve a little deeper into a hauntingly good example of an adaptation of a work in the public domain.

The first is one of the more weirder, and for a few people, more distressing cases of adapting works in the public domain –  “Winnie-the-Pooh: Blood and Honey”.  This is a movie which, as its title implies, adapts one of the much beloved books of A. A. Milne. The first Winnie-the-Pooh book published in 1926 will not enter the public domain in the UK for another few years given that A. A. Milne died in 1956. However, given its publication date is before 1928 the book is in the public domain in the USA. The first Winnie-the-Pooh novel entered the public domain in the USA on the 1st January 2022. The writer and director of the film Rhys Frake-Waterfield still faced potential IP problems even though the book was in the public domain in the USA. Primarily, they faced potential legal troubles from Disney who retain the exclusive rights over their famous interpretations of Pooh Bear and pals[3]. Frake-Waterfield had to be careful that his script and the character depictions in the movie were based directly on the 1926 movie[4].

When this film was announced, the general reaction from the public was outrage at the destruction of such a beloved childhood character. However, this social media frenzy over the announcement of the film led the producers to issue a wider release. The film was shot on a reported budget of less than $100,000[5] but was estimated to have raked in more than $5 million[6] across its theatrical release. Given the commercial success of the film, it has opened the doors for the development of a sequel[7] as well as rumours for horror movie adaptations of other childhood classics like Bambi and Peter Pan[8][9].

Happy Halloween!

Dr Frederika Phipps






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