Winnie the Pooh royalties dispute appealed

AP News
Posted: Nov 11, 2009 11:30 PM

The company founded by the man who made Winnie the Pooh internationally famous filed a notice of appeal to get unpaid royalties for the use of the beloved children's characters.

Attorneys for Stephen Slesinger Inc. filed papers in U.S. District Court in Los Angeles on Nov. 5 to notify the court that it is appealing to collect past royalties from Walt Disney Co. and redress for "past improper business practices."

Disney spokeswoman Michelle Bergman said claims by the late Stephen Slesinger's family were dismissed in federal court in September, when a judge ruled Disney has the license to the Pooh characters.

Slesinger signed a licensing deal with Pooh creator A.A. Milne in 1931. Slesinger gave the bear his red shirt, developed Pooh products and then licensed the rights to Disney in 1961. The agreement was updated in 1983.

A Stephen Slesinger Inc. spokesman, Lonnie Soury, said the latest ruling in the case left the door open for the family to get hundreds of millions of dollars in past royalties from Disney.

Slesinger Inc. attorney Eric George argued that the judge said the family is owed 1.5 to 2.5 percent in royalties going forward. Soury said Disney is concealing the amount of money it has earned from the sale of Pooh products with "Hollywood accounting."

If Disney does not provide the royalties, Slesinger Inc. can revoke the license, the company's attorney Eric George said.

Disney is required to report gross revenues from Pooh characters separately, and not combined with other characters, like Mickey Mouse, Soury said.

Disney said the family's latest legal move is "baffling," arguing the Sept. 25 decision by Judge Florence-Marie Cooper rejected the Slesinger company's claims and confirmed that Disney licensed all the rights to Winnie, Piglet, Tigger and their friends.

"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," Bergman said.

In 2004, a Superior Court judge threw out Slesinger Inc.'s lawsuit, saying the company illegally obtained confidential documents from Disney offices and trash.