U.S. District Court Judge Florence-Marie Cooper on Thursday dismissed a copyright lawsuit that sought to end Disney’s obligation to pay the Slesinger family royalties for sales of Winnie the Pooh merchandise. In 1961, the Slesingers, who inherited the merchandising rights to the silly old bear and his forest friends, transferred those rights to Disney in exchange for ongoing royalty payments.
But the partnership became acrimonious. In 1991, the Slesingers sued Disney in state court alleging breach of contract and fraud. They claimed that over the years the Burbank-based entertainment giant had cheated them out of hundreds of millions of dollars in profits from Pooh.
That lawsuit was followed by the copyright case that was thrown out Thursday. In 2002, the granddaughters of Pooh author A.A. Milne and of illustrator E.H. Shepard filed a complex lawsuit in U.S. District Court in Los Angeles that invoked U.S. copyright law to assert rights to Pooh. If they had prevailed, the Slesingers’ legal ties to the bear would have been erased.
Although Disney was not a plaintiff in the 2002 claim, the company had agreed to pay the granddaughters’ legal fees if they assigned to Disney any rights they won to Pooh merchandise â€” such as toys, DVDs, computer games and clothing â€” which they did.
But Judge Cooper on Thursday dismissed the claims brought by Harriet Jessie Minette Hunt, who is Shepard’s granddaughter. Cooper granted the Slesingers’ motion for summary judgment, which is expected to end the copyright case. Earlier, the judge had dismissed Clare Milne’s portion of the case.