Saturday, February 17, 2007

Hollywood, USA: Judge agrees with Winnie the Pooh; "Disney don't own me."

In a court case stretching back over 15 years, the Disney Company was dealt its final setback over the rights to Winnie the Pooh as well as the other A. A. Milne characters from his Christopher Robin children's books. Now Disney faces a monstrous 2 billion dollar lawsuit demanding residual payments from the several gazillion bucks the company has earned from sales of toys, clothing, books and just about everything that you can imagine that has carried Winnie's name and/or likeness.

In dismissing Milne's grandaughters' suit against the Slesinger family, which bought the rights to Pooh et al in 1930 from Milne himself, the judge cranked the Disney company pretty good yes. Disney was not tecnically a party to the suit but had paid all of the Milne grandaughters' legal expenses, no doubt totaling many millions of dollars. Disney is, however, still under the gun for claims by the Slesinger family over the money earned from sales of Pooh stuff, which, in 2006 alone, totaled 6 billion dollars.

The Slesinger family has not had great success in their pursuit of this money but I would think that this latest action by the federal judge can only help them. The family's lawyers just recently filed actions with the U.S. Patent and Trademark Office seeking to have Disney's trademark rights to the Pooh canceled. The Slesinger family's claim is that Disney did not have rights to the characters and, therefore, any trademark rights granted to Disney are improper.

This will go on for many more years, I'm afraid. And it has been a dirty fight, so far. A California state court judge sanctioned Disney for destroying millions of pages of evidence. Then another California judge dismissed the Slesinger's suit for royalty payments after discovering that a Slesinger family private investigator, who learned of the ongoing destruction of the records, admitted sifting through Disney's garbage in order to retrieve the records. It seems that neither side can count on victory when dueling judges rule one way one day and another way another day.

However, the Slesinger family's latest broadside will be filed in federal court, not a California state court. That action will seek redress from Disney for breach of contract, copyright infringment and fraudulently underpaying royalties. And the federal courts, up to and including the United States Supreme Court, have been exceedingly kind the the Slesinger family so far.

Don't tell the kids.

See ya, Disney! It's time to pay up.

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