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LPWire: Disney Loses Appeal in Federal 'Pooh' Copyright Case

Disney Loses Appeal in Federal 'Pooh' Copyright Case
Ninth Circuit Nixes Effort to 'Manipulate' Disabled Daughter of 'Christopher Robin'

The United States Court of Appeals for the Ninth Circuit has denied an appeal by Clare Milne and Disney to recapture the rights under copyright to Winnie the Pooh from the Slesinger family, originally granted in an agreement with author A. A. Milne in the 1930's.

In a surprise announcement in November of 2002, Disney said Clare Milne had initiated complex copyright-law maneuvers in an effort to reclaim the rights to Pooh. In May, a Federal District court ruled in favor of the Slesingers, leading to Milne's appeal, which Disney joined.

Slesinger attorney Johnnie Cochran said, "This tactic must have been cooked up by Disney's 'Imagineers,' as it clearly had no connection to reality. Hopefully Disney is done delaying and is ready to go to trial."

"We are pleased that the Court of Appeals has not accepted the arguments that the amount of money Disney and Milne claim to be involved entitle them to go to the front of the line in having their appeal heard ahead of time or on a piecemeal basis," said Slesinger's copyright attorney Roger Zissu, of Fross, Zelnick, Lehrman and Zissu. Any appeal will have to await completion of the whole case in the trial court."

"It's common knowledge that Clare Milne was unfortunately born disabled and that these complex matters are beyond her understanding," said a Slesinger family spokesperson. "Obviously Disney was behind this manipulation from the start."

The decision clears the way for a full trial scheduled on claims by the Slesinger family that Disney owes them hundreds of millions of dollars for failure to pay them for all commercial uses of Pooh, as well as on royalties based upon gross sales as stipulated by their contract over the past 20 years.

A. A. Milne licensed Pooh characters to the Slesingers in the 1930's, who in turn assigned rights to Disney in 1961. In 1983, Disney convinced the heirs of A.A. Milne and the Slesingers to enter a new agreement. "Ironically, in 1983 Disney went to extraordinary lengths to pressure the Slesingers to sign a new agreement, the very agreement Disney has sought to repudiate," said Zissu.

The most profitable of all the characters Disney markets, Pooh is estimated to be worth between $3 billion and $6 billion in annual revenue. Disney's total annual revenues are $25 billion. The Slesinger family has asked for a judgment that would include compensatory damages of at least $700 million, unspecified punitive damages, and the right to terminate all future rights of Disney to exploit Winnie-the-Pooh characters.

--Posted January 21, 2004
Source: Slesinger family