February 7, 2022

IP Goes Pop! Season 3, Episode #1: Escape of the Famous Cartoon Characters – IP and the Public Domain

What do Bambi, Mickey Mouse, and Winnie the Pooh all have in common? Besides remaining lovable pop-culture icons, these cartoon characters are all part of copyrighted works entering the public domain. In our first episode of season three, IP Goes Pop! co-hosts and Volpe Koenig Shareholders, Michael Snyder and Joseph Gushue, are back for a journey into the public domain. With the help of their fellow Shareholder John O’Malley, they walk through the history of copyright term (how long copyrights last), how and when copyrighted works enter the public domain, and the way this area of law continues to evolve as famous and high-value works enter the public domain.

The episode begins by going through some famous cartoon characters and their influence on popular culture. The panel then defines what the public domain is and what it means for a work to enter the public domain. The public domain is a place where formerly copyright protected works can find new life, as they are no longer protected by copyright.

The question becomes, how does a famous character, story, or work of art enter into the public domain? To answer this, the panel invites us to reflect on the purpose of copyright, how one can acquire copyright protections for their characters and stories, the ability to make a work of art “useful” to more people, and the tradeoffs that come with protecting works over time.

The episode next takes you through the intricacies of calculating when copyrighted works have their copyright terms expire and enter the public domain, as well as the history of the legal timelines relating to copyright terms of protection.

Michael, Joe, and John then discuss some early stories including the famous characters purported to be entering the public domain this year- such as early stories about Winnie the Pooh and Bambi– and the potential avenues creators may take, and have already taken, in anticipation of such works coming off copyright.

The panel considers the benefits of copyrighted works entering the public domain, such as its ability to enable what is old to become new again, so that works are not lost forever. They also address common misconceptions surrounding the uses of copyrighted works in the public domain. Listeners will learn that even if certain works enter the public domain there may be other related IP rights, such as related still-active copyrights, and trademark rights, especially with well-established or famous cartoon characters.

Concluding with a discussion about famous books entering the public domain, the hosts help listeners understand the interplay of notable works created from sources long residing in the public domain such as Shakespeare’s Romeo and Juliet and the more contemporary West Side Story.

This episode will pique listeners’ curiosity about familiar characters, stories, and copyrighted works of art entering the public domain in the next 10 to 20 years and implications for future works.


2:49 Favorite Cartoon Characters

  • Bugs Bunny & The Looney Tunes
  • Mickey Mouse
  • Jiminy Cricket
  • The Seven Dwarfs
  • Pluto
  • Goofy
  • Donald Duck

7:12 What is considered public domain and what does it mean for a work to be in the public domain?

10:13 How long do copyrights last? How do copyrighted works enter the public domain?

16:20 Stories including characters entering the public domain

  • Winnie-the-Pooh, A. A.Milne, 1926
    • Derivative works
    • Trademark rightss
    • Zombie Winnie the Pooh non-fungible tokens (NFTs)
  • Bambi a Life in the Woods, Felix Salten, 1926
  • Mickey Mouse Original Cartoons
    • Steamboat Willie
      • The Simpsons – Itchy & Scratchy Cartoon: Steamboat Itchy
    • The Gallopin’ Gaucho
    • Oswald the Lucky Rabbit

27:02   Why is the public domain a good thing?

  • Rediscovery & preserving works for longevity

29:11 Public Domain Myths

29:51 Books Entering the Public Domain in 2022

  • The Sun Also Rises, Ernest Hemingway, 1926
  • Enough Rope, Dorothy Parker, 1926
  • The Weary Blues, Langston Hughes, 1926
  • The Seven Pillars of Wisdom, T.E. Lawrence, 1926
  • Examples of books in the Public Domain that have inspired derivative works
    • Arthur Conan Doyle’s Sherlock Holmes and the BBC’s Sherlock
    • West Side Story and William Shakespeare’s Romeo and Juliet

33:15 Final Thoughts

  • Be on the lookout for the superheroes entering the public domain
  • Will there be another copyright extension for famous characters?


Warning & Disclaimer: The pages, articles and comments on IPWatchdog.com do not constitute legal advice, nor do they create any attorney-client relationship. The articles published express the personal opinion and views of the author as of the time of publication and should not be attributed to the author’s employer, clients or the sponsors of IPWatchdog.com. Read more.