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CREATe seminar: “Roald Dahl, Hugh Lofting, & Dr. Seuss: Exploring Copyright Implications of Revising Classic Children’s Works”

Posted on    by Marta Iljadica

CREATe seminar: “Roald Dahl, Hugh Lofting, & Dr. Seuss: Exploring Copyright Implications of Revising Classic Children’s Works”

By 23 May 2023November 17th, 2023No Comments

CREATe is pleased to announce a talk by Prof. Cathay Smith on Tuesday 23 May 2023 at 13.30. Prof. Smith writes: 

News broke on February 17, 2023 that Puffin Books, a subsidiary of Penguin Random House and publisher of Roald Dahl’s books, had edited at least ten of Dahl’s classic children’s books to “make them less offensive and more inclusive.” The public backlash to the news was overwhelming and attracted the attention of several high-profile public figures. Some called it “absurd censorship.” Others labelled it “corporate safetyism.” It was criticized as “cultural vandalism” and “the woke’s war on culture.” This was in part a reprise of the frenzy over a publisher’s decision in 2021 to stop publishing six Dr. Seuss books over racially offensive images. While most of the commentary and criticism about those changes to classic works have focused on concerns with “free speech” or “loss of heritage,” there has been little discussion about the legal rights of authors, copyright owners, and publishers to revise or retire their expressive works, and the potential implications of those changes under copyright law and policy.

This project explores the different actions authors, copyright owners, and publishers have taken to remedy racist, sexist, or other problematic content in classic children’s works, and examines the moral debates and copyright law and policy implications that emerge from those actions. Some authors, copyright owners, and publishers have made entire works unavailable through ceasing to publish, license, or produce those works.  Disney no longer makes its film Song of the South available to stream or purchase and, as noted above, Dr. Seuss ceased publishing and licensing six of its books.  Others have edited, replaced, or simply removed the racist or outdated content in works.  Roald Dahl made edits to the Oompa Loompas in Charlie and the Chocolate Factory, Hugh Lofting’s son updated Prince Bumpo’s story in The Story of Doctor Dolittle, Disney eliminated a character from its film Fantasia, and ballet companies have rechoreographed dances in George Balanchine’s The Nutcracker.  Finally, some have chosen to attach content warnings to problematic works such as in Disney’s Dumbo film and Applewood Publishing’s Nancy Drew Mystery Series. Not everyone agrees with these changes or how changes should be made to classic children’s works. Proponents of those changes recognize the potential for racial and gender stereotypes in children’s works to reinforce internalized racism, sexism, and White supremacy.  Opponents argue that changes to children’s works are censoring history and destroying the artistic integrity of classic works.

Do changes to children’s works advance social justice or do they whitewash history?  Do they censor speech or do they promote copyright’s purpose of encouraging free expression?  How do these changes to classic children’s works implicate copyright doctrines of infringement, fair use, and derivative rights?  Join CREATe on Tuesday May 23 to discuss copyright implications in revising classic children’s works, and to explore the potential conflicts and imbalances in copyright policy, free speech, and social policy, and copyright’s role in serving the diverse interests of society.

The talk will be chaired by Dr Marta Iljadica and will take place in the ARC Building at the University of Glasgow. 

UPDATE: Registration for the event is free but places are limited. To register to attend Prof. Smith’s talk please email Ms Diane McGrattan ( If you have any questions please email Dr Marta Iljadica (

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