22 February 2003
In the Hundred-Acre Courtroom
Arguably no corporation screams so loudly about the rights of intellectual-property owners as The Walt Disney Company, which is why it is so delicious to see them embroiled in a suit over royalties.
Shirley Slesinger Lasswell and daughter Patricia Slesinger inherited the merchandising rights to A. A. Milne's Winnie-the-Pooh character. They licensed the characters to Disney many years ago. While Disney pays the bills for stuffed plush and apparel and such, they've never paid any royalties for Pooh videos, computer games and software, on the basis that these items were not specifically mentioned in the Disney-Slesinger contract.
Having been caught once myself by this sort of argument, I suppose I should feel some sympathy for the Mouse House, but at some point in the proceedings, somebody at Disney actually tossed out a bunch of pertinent legal documents, following which the company moved to block the jury from hearing about it. The California Supreme Court has now rejected that motion.
Disney, as a matter of course, doesn't much like paying for things. You may remember their last animated feature, Treasure Planet. (Actually, you probably don't; it was a box-office disaster.) Basically, it's Robert Louis Stevenson in space, just one more Disney effort to wangle something copyrightable out of public-domain material. But God forbid it should ever go in the other direction.
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