Friday, November 13, 2009

The Smell of Moolah

What with a new Winnie feature, and the huge sums at stake, is this any kind of surprise?

The family of Steven Slesinger, the marketer who brought Winnie the Pooh to American culture, has asked a federal court to help it recover what it says could be upwards of $1 billion in lost royalties from Disney.

"On Thursday, November 5, Stephen Slesinger, Inc. filed a notice of appeal to obtain unpaid past royalties from Disney as well as redress for Disney's past improper business practices," the family said in a written statement ...

Little did A. A. Milne know, back when he wrote those kid books, that he would be making a fine, multi-national conglomerate and several other people very rich (or richER, as the case may be.)

Disney, of course, swatted down a lawsuit by S. Slesinger, Inc. several months ago, and is now harumphing and tut-tutting:

Disney said the latest legal move was "baffling", given that on September 25 Judge Florence-Marie Cooper had ruled that Stephen Slesinger Inc. ''transferred all of its rights in the Pooh works to Disney, and may not now claim infringement of any retained rights.''

The Disney spokesman said: "In 19 years of litigation, every legal claim the Slesinger company has filed against Disney has been dismissed by the courts and Disney's position has been vindicated every step of the way."

It all goes back to the good old Golden Rule: "He who has the gold, makes the rules."

With the occasional exception:

... In 2002, Disney underwrote an attempt by the heirs of Pooh creator A.A. Milne and illustrator E.H. Shepard to regain control of the franchise. That suit was rejected in federal court and was upheld by the Supreme Court ...

Disney, I'm sure, calculated that the Milne family would be less a pain in the backside than the Slesinger family. The strategy just didn't work out according to plan. Oh well. Win some and lose some ...


Anonymous said...

The issue stinks of the Segal and Shuster mess (creators of Superman). I have to say that my sympathies are not with Disney in this case. The heirs of Milne and Shepard deserve a cut of the massive franchise that has enriched Disney for decades. I bet Uncle Walt would have compensated them fairly. But alas, Disney is in every way, especially in spirit, not Walt's company any more...

Anonymous said...

The heirs deserve nothing whatsoever. Copyright should protect the *artist*, not his lazy grandchildren. The whole thing ought to be reformed, with copyright expiring at the latest 20 years after a writer's death.

Corporate copyrights and trademarks are a joke, too, and Disney, unfortunately, is one of the worst offenders. The collaborative nature of film-making makes it more difficult to determine authorship than (novel) writing, but still, lawmakers ought to find a way to negate the "Paramount financed the film 70 years ago, so they get to keep the rights to it for as long as the company exists" train of argument.

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