Slesingers have suffered string of losses in state court

The Slesinger family, which licenses Winnie the Pooh to Disney, scored a minor victory Thursday when the 9th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals affirmed a lower court decision rebuffing Disney’s attempts to terminate the Slesingers’ copyright license.

In 2002, in the midst of a bitterly fought royalty dispute with the Slesingers, Disney announced that Clare Milne and Minette Hunt, the granddaughters of Pooh author A.A. Milne and illustrator E.H. Shepard, respectively, were terminating the Slesinger family’s license, effective 2004, and granting rights directly to Disney. Disney immediately brought a suit in federal court in Los Angeles seeking a judgment that the terminations were valid.

U.S. District Court Judge Florence-Marie Cooper ruled in 2003 that copyright law did not give Clare Milne the power to terminate the license that had been granted to Stephen Slesinger by A.A. Milne in 1930. In affirming, the 9th Circuit agreed that despite changes in the copyright law in 1998, the grant of rights to the Slesingers was valid and could not be revoked.

A Disney spokesman declined comment on the case.

Despite the victory in federal court, the Slesingers have suffered a string of losses in state court, where they charged that Disney has cheated them of millions of dollars in royalty payments. After more than a decade of litigation, their case was tossed out of L.A. Superior Court in 2004 as the ultimate sanction for “egregious misconduct” in hiding, altering and destroying documents. The state case is on appeal.

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