Top court pooh-poohs Milne’s rights appeal

Copyright control case reaches deadend

In an epilogue to the long-running Winnie the Pooh legal wrangle, the U.S. Supreme Court on Monday declined to hear an appeal from the granddaughter of Pooh’s creator, who was trying to recapture copyright control of the stories.

A.A. Milne wrote the Pooh books between 1924 and 1928 and granted a license to Stephen Slesinger in 1930. Slesinger, in turn, granted his rights to Stephen Slesinger Inc., a company controlled by his family. The company sublicensed to the Walt Disney Co. certain rights to the Pooh works.

In 2002, amid a bitterly fought royalty dispute with the Slesingers, Disney announced that Clare Milne, granddaughter of A.A. Milne, was terminating the Slesinger family’s license and granting rights directly to Disney. Disney immediately brought a suit in federal court seeking a judgment that the terminations were valid.

U.S. District Court Judge Florence-Marie Cooper ruled in 2003 that Milne did not have control of the Pooh copyrights. The 9th Circuit Court of Appeals agreed with Cooper’s ruling last December, and the Supreme Court action on Monday lets the appeals court ruling stand.

As things turned out, the Clare Milne attempt to regain copyright control was a diversion in the main Pooh royalty dispute, which ended when the Slesinger’s case was tossed out of L.A. Superior Court in 2004 as the ultimate sanction for “egregious misconduct” that included hiding, altering and destroying documents.

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