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Sweetened pot

Copyright change aids honey of a deal

The Walt Disney Co. scooped out a tidy sum from its honey pot last week, coughing up roughly $340 million to retain the Winnie the Pooh franchise until its copyright expires in 2026.

Deal, while sweet for the beneficiaries of the A.A. Milne estate, may have left Disney execs with a serious tummy ache.

Agreement was for a typical advance royalty payment, as Disney sought to tidy up its twice-yearly royalty payments to the estate and add new-media rights to the property.

But the sum was far higher than the $150 million Disney was reported to have originally offered agent Curtis Brown — and for a much longer term than the studio initially sought.

It was a shift in copyright law that abruptly gave Pooh the upper hand.

A European Union law, recently adopted in the U.S., increased the length of copyright from 50 years after an author’s death to 70 years. It was this harmonization in copyright laws between Europe and the U.S. that created a sticky climate for the deal.

To accountants at Disney, the figures must have seemed less than harmonious. One day they were paying for five years’ copyright, the next they were paying for 25.

Curtis Brown chair Jonathan Lloyd says similar royalty deals have been struck in the past for the work of Agatha Christie and Ian Fleming, whose characters have become brands in themselves. Neither deal, however, coincided so fortuitously with a change in copyright law.

The new law is only 2 years old, and it’s possible there are several more licenses out there that may have doubled in value almost overnight.

If so, the cuddly Pooh may set a prickly precedent for other publishers.

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