Court Tells Disney It Can't Ignore Rights Owner Of Winnie The Pooh

from the whoops dept

One of the great ironies of copyright law is the way Disney has often treated the subject. While the company is famous for being the main player in pushing to extend copyright law every time Mickey Mouse is about to fall into the public domain, it's also made its living taking content from others and reusing it. Many of Disney's most famous movies are all based on public domain works, which they appropriated and turned into derivative works. Even Mickey Mouse falls into the appropriated folder. As Larry Lessig helped publicize when fighting the last Disney-inspired copyright extension, Mickey Mouse's first video, Steamboat Willie, was actually a take-off on Buster Keaton's Steamboat Bill, from just a year earlier. So while Disney continues to push to keep its own characters away from other's uses, it appears that it's running into some problems when it comes to the rights of others. For about a decade and a half, Disney has been fighting with Stephen Slesinger Inc., who was given the rights to A.A. Milne's Winnie the Pooh character in 1930. There have been some disagreements along the way, but Disney negotiated some sort of license with Slesinger in 1961, and an updated agreement in 1983. However, Slesinger has been claiming that Disney has been underpaying royalties on the Pooh character, to the point that the company feels it's owed approximately $2 billion (yes, with a b). Disney went to court to have Slesinger's rights voided -- but it appears that the court isn't buying Disney's argument. Neither party comes out of this looking very good -- but, it sure is interesting to see how Disney, which claims to be such a big supporter of rights surrounding fictional characters, treats someone else's rights in that same space.


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  •  
    identicon
    bAD dISNEY bAD, Feb 20th, 2007 @ 6:15am

    Alice in Wonderland trade mark

    Recall also the attempt to quietly grab trademark rights to "Alice in Wonderland" down in New Zealand. Hoping they were too stupid perhaps to recall who actually wrote it?

    http://publicaddress.net/default,3887.sm#post3887

    "Disney's application to IPONZ for a trade mark on Alice in Wonderland. The specification of goods and services for which trade mark protection is sought is very lengthy: from furniture to food, clothing to CDs."

     

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    drtaxsacto, Feb 20th, 2007 @ 6:50am

    No surprise

    Disney, like a lot before it including Mark Twain and Charles Dickens, acts like the copyright law applies to all others. At some point, the law will wake up to reality. Disney is a poster child of greed about this set of issues and the Congress continues to let them be just that. I don't know about Slesinger's claims but on the natural he should win.

     

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    PhysicsGuy, Feb 20th, 2007 @ 6:56am

    "Neither party comes out of this looking very good"

    maybe in your ass backwards view of things Slesinger isn't coming out looking good, but how can you view it as anything but someone wanting the money that's owed to him? just because disney (may) owe him $2 billion dollars doesn't mean he's anything but a person who wants the money owed to him. seriously, disney is the only one who is looking bad by this (with all the present information, now if it turns out that disney only really owes slesinger $2k then we can form judgment around his $2 billion claim).

     

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      ElCubano, Sep 9th, 2008 @ 11:00am

      Re:

      He was meaning something a little different. Disney turned right around and took Selsinger to court because he elegidly hired a private investigator (PI) to research the money issues going on in the situation. They then accused Selsinger's PI of stealing person files and information to acquire this knowledge.

       

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    Barry, Feb 20th, 2007 @ 7:46am

    It is a simple truth that if Disney Corp can buy out a CEO contract — paid ex-Disney CEO Michael Ovitz' a $140 million severance after 14 months' work — that they have lot's of dirty little secrets — screwing the little guy for decades!

     

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    TheDock22, Feb 20th, 2007 @ 7:46am

    Slesinger Family

    http://www.wardhadaway.com/legal/read.php?id=111

    Good read on this issue. It seems the Slesinger family has been after Disney on a consistent basis about this issue. As soon as Disney's profits on Winnie the Pooh go up, the Slesinger's want more money. More money for a character they never invented (they bought the rights for $1000), so what rights do they have? So far, the courts have been on Disney's side.

    but how can you view it as anything but someone wanting the money that's owed to him

    Because the Slesinger's don't deserve it. The granddaughter of the creator, Claire Milne, has been trying for years to get back the rights. Think the Slesinger's are going to give them up? No, they feel a $1000 investment should get them billions. I think both Disney and he Slesinger's are being awfully greedy over a beloved children's icon.

     

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      jedipunk, Feb 20th, 2007 @ 8:00am

      Re: Slesinger Family

      Happens all the time in the stock market.

       

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      greedy???, Feb 20th, 2007 @ 7:34pm

      Re: Slesinger Family

      So by your logic, if I purchased shares of disney for $1000 as a personal loan to help walt disney start up his company, and then 70 years later wanted them to cash them in for 2billion because that is what they are now worth, I am being greedy? It does not matter how much was paid for the rights, the only thing that matters is whether or not I have those rights. (I am not sure that the rights should be granted to anyone for 70+ years but that is a completely different arguement)

       

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      fred, Jan 17th, 2008 @ 11:01am

      Re: Slesinger Family

      That would all be nice and dandy until you realize that the Pooh brand was nothing in the United States or world (except a beloved children's book) before Slesinger turned it into a big brand, only to license the already-big-brand to Disney after Slesinger had made it famous. JFK's kids were wearing Slesinger's Pooh gear long before Disney came in the picture. And the $1000 is just a story you bought from Disney, considering the real money in these deals is always in the ongoing royalties. So say what you might, but Milne was an author not a merchandiser, and that's why Slesinger was as important to Pooh's success as he was.

       

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    identicon
    Barry, Feb 20th, 2007 @ 7:46am

    It is a simple truth that if Disney Corp can buy out a CEO contract — paid ex-Disney CEO Michael Ovitz' a $140 million severance after 14 months' work — that they have lot's of dirty little secrets — screwing the little guy for decades!

     

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    z0idberg, Feb 20th, 2007 @ 7:47am

    I'm also confused

    as to how Slesinger comes out of this looking bad.

    Disney was required by agreement to pay a percentage of the earnings of the Pooh brand to Slesinger. Slesinger alleges to have found evidence that they were vastly underpaying, Disney was busted for destroying MILLIONS of pages of evidence, but the case was thrown out as the alleged evidence was found in Disneys trash which apparently makes it inadmissable (source wikipedia).

    So Slesinger is owed money, Disney underpaid, and because they tried to get the money they are rightfully owned they come out looking bad? how so?

    Does Patrick Robin come out looking bad from asking MPAA to stop using his blogging software or pay up?

     

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      TheDock22, Feb 20th, 2007 @ 7:58am

      Re: I'm also confused

      as to how Slesinger comes out of this looking bad.

      Disney was busted for destroying MILLIONS of pages of evidence, but the case was thrown out as the alleged evidence was found in Disneys trash which apparently makes it inadmissible (source wikipedia).


      Patti Selsinger claims that the deceased party involved in settlement back in 1983 promised the family that Disney would pay them video royalty, which Disney never did. And these supposed documents Disney destroyed didn't happen recently, but was part or a whole bunch of obsolete documents Disney disposed of years ago. Would you keep non-legal paperwork around from 1983? I sure wouldn't. Yes it's coming back to bite Disney in the behind, but I'm not convinced they were "destroying evidence".

      I agree with the author that neither party is going to come out looking like saints. The Selsigner's are greedy as well as Disney.

       

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        identicon
        z0idberg, Feb 20th, 2007 @ 8:12am

        Re: Re: I'm also confused

        If you are not sure whether Disney willingly destroyed evidence have a read of this page:
        http://www.monitor.net/monitor/0201a/pooh1.html

        (link from wikipedia).

        Apparently they werent "obsolete documents", but very important documents relating to the case that were deliberately destroyed.

         

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          Anonymous Coward, Feb 21st, 2007 @ 5:47am

          Re: Re: Re: I'm also confused

          I have read that twice and see nothing other than they destroyed the documents. How does this prove your point?

           

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            z0idberg, Feb 21st, 2007 @ 8:25am

            Re: Re: Re: Re: I'm also confused

            My point is Disney was found to have deliberately destroyed the documents. This quote in particular:

            "...In a first order on sanctions in June 2000, Hiroshige found Disney liable for "willful suppression of evidence."...."

            This was in response to an earlier comment that Disney may not have intentionally destroyed the documents.

             

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    identicon
    z0idberg, Feb 20th, 2007 @ 8:00am

    Because the Slesinger's don't deserve it. The granddaughter of the creator, Claire Milne, has been trying for years to get back the rights. Think the Slesinger's are going to give them up? No, they feel a $1000 investment should get them billions. I think both Disney and he Slesinger's are being awfully greedy over a beloved children's icon.

    So if you bought 10% of shares in Microsoft when they were first starting out for $1000 then when you tried to see them today for billions you shouldnt get the money because it is too much for the amount you invested?

    What if after they bought the rights for $1000 and Winnie the Pooh never became popular and never made any money. Could they ask for the $1000 back?

    They made a shrewd investment. Your argument sounds like sour grapes.

    So should Disney keep the money that is legally owed to Slesinger ? why do they deserve it more? they didnt create it OR purchase the rights from the original creator.

    Or should it go to the granddaughter even though the creator sold the rights way back when? The guy knowingly and willingly sold the rights. If my grandfather sold some oceanfront real estate 50 years ago for $1000 I cant now go to the current owner and say "Oh, I didnt realise it would be worth millions of dollars in the future, can I have the land back ?"

     

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      TheDock22, Feb 20th, 2007 @ 8:12am

      Re:

      So if you bought 10% of shares in Microsoft when they were first starting out for $1000 then when you tried to see them today for billions you shouldnt get the money because it is too much for the amount you invested?

      True, the grand-daughter might not be entitled by law, but it seems fishy to me that the Selinger's paid $1000 for all rights instead of an annual compensation. Maybe it was a good investment, or maybe they weaseled there way into the deal. Nobody knows.

      Anyway, all I'm saying is the Slesinger's only claim is that Disney agreed to give them video rights, which Disney never did. They are also trying to say Disney destroyed any proof of promising compensation for video rights, which I don't believe they did. And the original guy who struck the deal on the Slesinger's side is deceased. If you take the whole issue of video rights out of the picture, the Slesinger's have been compensated what they were promised.

      It's just they now see how much profit is in the videos and think they are entitled, when they aren't according to the 1983 agreement. They've lost this argument before back in the 90s, I doubt they will win it this time.

       

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      identicon
      Lisa, Feb 20th, 2007 @ 8:13am

      Re: copyright for Winnie the Pooh

      My thoughts exactly. That's how investing works. You take a risk when you invest, no matter how large or small the amount of the original investment. You could be flushing money down the toilet, or you can make billions. But if you're entitled to the profits on your investment, and someone else refuses to pay you, then they're stealing and should be held accountable.

       

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      Old Guy, Feb 20th, 2007 @ 12:44pm

      Re:

      Remember all the media types & merchandising that didn't exist. I guess it depends on your point of view.
      For example , did Jerry Siegel & Joe Schuster and their heirs get screwed or not?

       

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    identicon
    jack Sombra, Feb 20th, 2007 @ 8:10am

    "No, they feel a $1000 investment should get them billions"
    If they paid $1000 in 1930 that was a hell of a lot of money when translated into today's terms (anywhere between $11000 to $50000 depending what method you use). Even if we took the low end, well would you pay $11 k for a "story character" before movie rights, merchandising and such really existed? Doubt it nor would many people. If anything Slesinger overpaid for Pooh in 1930 but got really lucky

    As to Slesinger "looking bad", how so? He/they own the rights, rights they paid for, rights granted to them by law, laws Disney fought to have enacted and enforced and is now fighting to get what the law says he should have. How does this make one look bad? It's not like he is suing a child for putting up a fan site called ilovepooh.com or anything here, he is suing a commercial, for profit company for his legal portion of the profits they are making from items he owns the rights to, rights Disney fought for him to have

     

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    PhysicsGuy, Feb 20th, 2007 @ 8:11am

    Re: Slesinger Family

    "As soon as Disney's profits on Winnie the Pooh go up, the Slesinger's want more money. More money for a character they never invented (they bought the rights for $1000), so what rights do they have?"

    i'll address the latter first, which, in fact, you've nicely answered yourself in a parenthetical in the question itself. what rights do they have? the rights they bought for $1000. as far as wanting more money, well, when you're entitled to a percentage of earnings from company A based on product x, well, naturally the more money company A makes on product x the more money you DO have a right to.

    "Because the Slesinger's don't deserve it. The granddaughter of the creator, Claire Milne, has been trying for years to get back the rights."

    and...? as stated before, because her grandfather decided to SELL THE RIGHTS TO HIS OWN CREATION, this means that the person who bought the rights somehow doesn't deserve them? interesting logic.

    "No, they feel a $1000 investment should get them billions."

    well, that's the feeling of ANYONE who invests money... you know... maybe this will help with your confusion: http://www.google.com/search?source=ig&hl=en&q=define%3Ainvestment&btnG=Google+Search

     

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    identicon
    TheDock22, Feb 20th, 2007 @ 8:14am

    No rights

    Okay, so the Slesinger's made a great deal and deserve every penny they made. But they aren't entitled to video rights, which is what this whole lawsuit is based on.

     

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    identicon
    Jay, Feb 20th, 2007 @ 8:20am

    Of course they should have video rights

    They own the rights to the character Winnie the Pooh. If you put him in a film, video, story book, blanket, whatever, you pay the people you license him from. There is no way Disney should be using the character without paying.

     

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    Penelope Trunk, Feb 20th, 2007 @ 8:33am

    Fortune Magazine Summary of Pooh

    In 2003 Fortune magazine summarized the very long history of this battle. I remember being shocked at how absurdly Disney has been handling iteself over the course of decades.

    http://money.cnn.com/magazines/fortune/fortune_archive/2003/01/20/335653/index.htm

     

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    identicon
    Anonymous Coward, Feb 20th, 2007 @ 9:05am

    The old standard...

    Fair Use: Me using your copywritten material

    Copyright Violation: Your use of my copywritten material

     

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    identicon
    Matt, Feb 20th, 2007 @ 9:54am

    Copywritten

    It is a copyright, not copywrite.

    I know it doesn't sound correct, but you say your material is copyrighted, not copywritten.

    See here.

     

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    identicon
    a, Feb 20th, 2007 @ 10:02am

    For $2 Billion, I would accept looking a bit sleezy.

     

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    Graham, Feb 20th, 2007 @ 10:04am

    Both look bad

    because they're squabbling over "rights" to characters imagined and created by someone else eighty years ago. Whatever the legalities of copyright law, that is absurd. If (as most of us agree) it is ludicrous for Disney to keep profiting because their old creations keep skipping away from public domain, it is just as ludicrous for the heirs of the Slesinger family to do so. Never mind that they are trafficking at least as much in Shepard's illustrations as in Milne's character.

     

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    identicon
    SATAN, Feb 20th, 2007 @ 8:13pm

    BOYCOTT

    BOYCOTT Disney!

     

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    identicon
    Nayeli Zuniga, Dec 5th, 2007 @ 10:51am

    What is Disney Channel hiding from everybody?

    Everybody says that the Disney Channel movies have dirty secrets inside of some scenes.

     

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    identicon
    harry, Mar 26th, 2008 @ 12:30pm

    Check and download some videos of Disney and Vinnie the Pooh at rapidshare files

     

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  •  
    identicon
    Valus, Nov 20th, 2008 @ 7:08am

    Hi I want to recommend you very useful download files search http://suche-project.eu You can find there a lot of new movies, games and music. Enjoy it!

     

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

  •  
    identicon
    Valusa, Nov 20th, 2008 @ 7:09am

    Hi I want to recommend you very useful rapidshare search http://4rapidsearch.com You can find there a lot of new movies, games and music. Enjoy it!

     

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]


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