Well-Known Characters That Are Now In The Public Domain

As we all know by now, the original Winnie-The-Pooh story by A.A. Milne is now in the public domain meaning that it is no longer protected by any copyright law which means that anyone is free to use its characters to create their own original works without any backlash from its previous owners. This got us thinking, what other famous characters are also in the public domain?

What Is The Public Domain?

To put it simply, any pieces of work which are in the public domain are completely free from any copyright protection and no one holds any exclusive intellectual property rights to them. When a piece of work enters the public domain, it is no longer owned by the original creator and is now owned by the general public who are now free to copy, perform or create their own original work with it. Copyright law states that copyright protection lasts for the duration of the author’s life plus an additional 70 years. However, once the work has surpassed this time frame the author’s work then enters the public domain no matter who held the rights before and is now in the hands of the public.

Sherlock Holmes

The Sherlock Holmes character is an interesting one as not all of the original stories are in the public domain. In the UK and Canada, the characters and stories are in the public’s hands. However, in the United States, copyright protection for the famous detective story has been argued over for quite some time. Leslie S. Klinger, who was the lawyer and editor of The New Annotated Sherlock Holmes, launched a court case against the Conan Doyle estate (the original creator of Sherlock Holmes) to argue over who actually still held the rights to the character and its stories even though copyright protection has ended. The court eventually ruled that even though a majority of the original stories were in the public domain, the 10 stories that were still in copyright protection would remain that way.

Robin Hood

Just like with Sherlock Holmes, the copyright around Robin Hood are a little complicated. Technically the English outlaw is in the public domain and is free for people to create their own original works with the character. However, if you make your version to simply to Disney’s then you could run into a copyright lawsuit with them as their Robin Hood fox character is Disney’s own addition to the story and not technically in the public domain.

King Kong

The gorilla giant King Kong is another infamous giant who has stepped one foot into the public domain realm. The original story of King Kong by Delos W. Lovelace is free for the public to use as the copyright was never renewed. The copyright for the actual King Kong character itself has been argued over by many companies and studios claiming that they are all entitled to use it as they wish, but it is Warner Bros who currently hold the rights to King Kong.

The Wonderful Wizard of Oz

The original children’s book The Wonderful Wizard of Oz by L. Frank Baum has exceeded its copyright restrictions and is now in the public domain meaning that quotes and character illustrations from the orginal book are now free for anyone to use as they wish. The 1939 film on the other hand starring Judy Garland, is not in the public domain as the film is still copyright protected but the actual story it is based off is in the public domain.

Peter Pan

As with the rest of the characters we’ve talked about so far, the original story of Peter Pan (originally called Peter and Wendy) which first released way back in 1911 is in the public domain in the US. The play and any other stage adaptations are still constricted by copyright laws as well as Disney’s own version of the character.


Interestingly, even though hes one of the biggest MARVEL characters in the MCU Thor is techincally in the public domain. Well the character of Thor is free for the public to use but MARVEL’s version of it is still trademarked by the studio. The reason is that Thor is a mythical figure meaning that Thor and because of this he is in the public domain and free for anyone to use. However, the way MARVEL was able to place copyright into their character was by naming him The Mighty Thor. This means that almost all of the mythical gods and creatures are in fact public domain as they can’t be copyrighted by anyone unless you make your own specific version of the character.

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