As intellectual property attorneys, we at Emerson Thomson Bennett are constantly monitoring and advising our clients on changes and developments in intellectual property law. One significant event that happens every year is a new IP joining the public domain. In an interesting year, we will see multiple famous IPs join the public domain.
2024 is looking to be an interesting year in intellectual property. The intellectual property attorneys at Emerson Thomson Bennett will discuss the significance of this event and its impact on creators, consumers, and the larger IP landscape.
What is the Public Domain?
Before we dive into the specific IPs entering the public domain in 2024, it’s important to explain what the public domain actually is. In simple terms, when a work enters the public domain, it becomes free for anyone to use. They don’t have to seek permission or pay royalties to the creator or the estate that owns the work’s creation. This includes creative works such as:
- TV shows
- Video games
- Comic Books
Why Do Famous IPs Enter the Public Domain?
Under current copyright law in the United States, works enter the public domain either 70 years after the death of the creator or 95 years after the publication of corporate-owned works. If a creator was employed to create something, it would typically be considered corporate-owned work.
It’s important to specify that the stories themselves join the public domain, not every incarnation of the characters henceforth. Currently, there are stories about characters like Winnie the Pooh and Mickey Mouse that are in the public domain, but the characters are not. This is because individual stories are still copyrighted, and their symbols are still trademarked.
People can only reproduce specific stories in the public domain. If they want to create something new, they can’t always use the trademarked symbols of the characters and must use characterizations that are unmistakably the same as the creative work in the public domain.
Famous IPs Entering the Public Domain in 2024
Now let’s take a look at some of the famous IPs that will enter the public domain in 2024:
- Steamboat Willie: Originally released by Disney on November 18, 1928, it’s the first copyrighted work that includes Mickey Mouse to enter the public domain. This animated short film has been influential on the modern film industry since its release. Starting January 1st, 2024, anyone can use it as they please.
- The House of Pooh Corner: While Winnie the Pooh and other related characters joined the public domain in 2022, Tigger joins this year when the copyright lapses for A. A. Milne’s book.
- Tarzan, Lord of the Jungle: Disney will see the source materials for many of its creative works enter the public domain in 2024, including Tarzan, the inspiration for their 1999 animated film.
- Millions of Cats: Wanda Gag’s picture is the oldest American picture book still in print, and in 2024, it reaches the hallmark milestone of entering the public domain.
- Lights of New York: This will be the first full-length feature film to enter the public domain.
- All Quiet on the Western Front: This famous anti-war novel by Erich Maria Remarque will enter the public domain soon, but only the original German version. The U.S. translation will be protected until 2025, so unless you know German, it may not be worthwhile to try printing it yourself yet.
- The Circus: The beloved Charlie Chaplin silent film will enter the public domain in 2024, but only the original version. It was re-released in 2024 with a new score, and this version is still protected. It’s interesting to note how updated works can maintain protections while the source material is not.
- Peter Pan: This work originated as a play, written by J. M. Barrie. It was performed back in 1904, but technically wasn’t published until 1928. Play performances weren’t considered published works for many years, and J. M. Barrie avoided officially publishing it for years to extend its copyright for as long as possible. For decades, plays and adaptations of Peter Pan brought in royalties, but not for the writer’s estate. He gave the copyright to the Great Ormond Street Hospital, a hospital for sick children, that still operates today.
Impact on Creators and Consumers
For creators, the entry of these famous IPs into the public domain may open up new opportunities for creative expression. With these works now free to use, remix, and adapt, we may see a resurgence in their popularity and relevance in contemporary culture.
While creators should not have to fear legal repercussions for using these works, that doesn’t mean that companies won’t try to find loopholes to try and keep creatives from using them. There have been instances of people trying to use public domain versions of Sherlock Holmes, only to be sued due to loopholes surrounding works that were still copyrighted.
There is also the impact the creators of these works will experience. While in most instances, the original creators have passed away, their families and estates may still be around, using the royalties of these works. Now that they are available for free, these estates will be financially impacted, which may potentially discourage future creativity.
Contact the Intellectual Property Attorneys at ETB Law For Help
The entry of famous IPs into the public domain in 2024 marks a significant event for creators, consumers, and the larger intellectual property landscape. It will be interesting to see how these works are used and adapted once they become free for all to use.
As always, we encourage creators and businesses to seek legal advice when using copyrighted material to ensure compliance with IP laws. Without proper guidance and consultation, you can end up violating IP law and finding your ‘public domain’ source material isn’t so public after all. Contact the intellectual property attorneys at ETB Law to schedule a consultation today.