Bob Iger can breathe a sigh of relief at today’s legal decision. Since the Disney Channel has My Friends Tigger & Pooh, a re-launch of the company’s very profitable Winnie The Pooh franchise. Tens of millions of dollars have been poured into the creation of this new CG TV series, all with the hope of making Pooh & pals more appealing to the SpongeBob generation. And the Mouse House has already lined up dozens of licensees to create My Friends Tigger & Pooh merchandise, which is due to hit store shelves this fall. So it’s great timing that the Walt Disney Co today won a California appeals court ruling in that 16-year battle with the Slesinger family over hundreds of millions of dollars in Pooh royalties. The judge’s panel affirmed a 2004 trial judge’s decision to throw out the Slesingers’ long running lawsuit against Disney after concluding that the Slesinger side had illegally obtained evidence by hiring a private dick to go Disney dumpster diving.
In case you’ve forgotten, Stephen Slesinger acquired the rights to the Winnie The Pooh characters in 1930 from author A.A. Milne, and Slesinger’s widow licensed the rights to Disney. Slesinger’s company filed a 1991 lawsuit claiming Disney hadn’t accurately accounted for hundreds of million in unpaid royalties for sales of Pooh merchandise. In turn, Disney has unsuccessfully tried to terminate Slesinger’s rights to the Pooh characters by backing a lawsuit filed by the granddaughters of Milne and illustrator Ernest Shepard. The U.S. Supreme Court last year turned away an appeal by Clare Milne that could have ended Disney’s obligation to pay Slesinger royalties. Slesinger filed counterclaims in the federal lawsuit, seeking more than $2 billion in damages for trademark and copyright infringement and for underpaid royalties. That counterclaim is still pending. So, no, this isn’t over.
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