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From horror films to school shooting PSAs, Winnie the Pooh is popping up in the weirdest places

Copies of Stay Safe featuring Winnie the Pooh were allegedly given to Texas children to help them navigate school shootings. (Supplied: Twitter)

Last month, California Governor Gavin Newsom tweeted his outrage at a book allegedly distributed to Texas children teaching them what to do in the case of an active school shooting.

What was unique about the book was that the message was delivered by Winnie the Pooh, Piglet, Roo and other members of the Hundred Acre Forest.

The page from the book tweeted by Mr Newsom features mother character Kanga teaching child Roo and Piglet that when faced with an active shooter, if they cannot "run" or "hide" then they have to "fight with all our might".

In recent years in the US, the "run, hide, fight" mantra has become the accepted danger response when involved in a school shooting.

It is similar to how "stop, drop, roll" has become a commonplace fire-safety instruction.

A few weeks before this, a film featuring Winnie and Piglet as murderous slashers sold to multiple international distributors.

Neither of these pieces of content came with the approval of creator AA Milne's estate.

And they don't have to.

That's because, as of 2021, Milne's version of the Hundred Acre Woods characters are part of the public domain.

What is the public domain?

Okay, quick copyright lesson.

You can't copyright books and their characters forever.

An artist or author's ownership generally expires 70 years after their death or 95 years after publication. In the case of Pooh, it was the latter.

Which is why, in 2021, Pooh and his friends entered the public domain, making it possible for creators to make content featuring the cast without permission from Milne's estate.

It's this shift in copyright that paved the way for 2022's Winnie the Pooh: Blood and Honey — a low-budget slasher horror that featured twisted versions of Pooh and Piglet hacking up teens in a forest.

The horror film depicts the famous bear in a very different way to his more wholesome iterations.   (Altitude Films)

The sequel to Blood and Honey recently sold to a plethora of international distributors.

The director of Blood and Honey, Rhys Frake-Waterfield, recently confirmed that he's also in the planning stages of a slasher starring orphaned deer Bambi — who came into the public domain in 2022.

Pooh's shift into the public domain is what also allowed his appearance in Stay Safe: Run, Hide, Fight without repercussions from the Milne estate.

Wait, why is Disney allowing this?

If asked to think of Winnie the Pooh, most people would envision a bright yellow cartoon bear clad in a bright scarlet crop top.

This is the Disney version of Winnie the Pooh.

Disney first released their licensed animated version of Pooh back in 1966, so aspects like the bright red shirt remain very much under Disney copyright and will continue to be for decades.

AA Milne's original design on the left was more realistic and often had Pooh naked while Disney's version, seen on the right with Disney CEO Bob Iger, gave him his iconic red crop top. (Wikicommons, Reuters: Max Morse)

Creators have to be very careful not to make their Pooh look too much like Disney's version, lest they be met with the company's infamously litigious copyright lawyers.

Milne's original versions of the characters have much more of a hand-drawn, less cartoonish look, as seen in Safe Space.

What other characters are in the public domain?

While Disney might be able to rest easy with their Pooh protected for some time, a bigger problem will present itself next year.

Because in 2024, Steamboat Willie, the first iteration of Micky Mouse, will come into the public domain.

But don't go making plans to create your own Micky merch to sell — only the version of Micky present in the 1928 short film will be entering the public domain.

Steamboat Mickey is in black and white, isn't wearing his trademark white gloves and only has black dots for eyes — making him significantly different from his modern counterpart.

A bunch of characters like Aladdin and The Little Mermaid are in the public domain thanks to the age of their original stories but the Disney-created versions are still very much locked up in their vault.

However, Disney isn't the only company with iconic characters that have recently or are about to stumble into the public domain.

Lewis Carroll's Alice In Wonderland characters came into the public domain in 2008, paving the way for Tim Burton's 2010 dark re-imagining of the childhood classic.

Storybook characters from novels like The Wizard of Oz, The Three Musketeers, Tarzan, Snow White, Sherlock Holmes and more are also available in the public domain, which is why you'll see multiple versions of the same character in different iterations.

The book version of international super spy James Bond has been public domain since 2015, but only in Canada.

This is because Canadian copyright laws only meet the Berne Convention's minimum copyright term of assuring exclusive rights 50 years beyond an author's death.

The United States and Europe set their standard at 70 years.

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