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Winnie the Pooh and Disney in Court over Royalties

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By Minara El-Rahman on November 16, 2009 1:04 PM

The family of the late Stephen Slesinger is suing Disney for allegedly not paying royalties that are due to them from the wildly popular Winnie the Pooh collection.

Stephen Slesinger is the man who made Winnie the Pooh recognizable and loved by many. He made a licensing deal with Winnie the Pooh creator AA Milne back in 1931. When he signed that deal, he developed products and even created Winnie the Pooh's trademark red shirt and no pants look.

Mr. Slesinger then in turn licensed his rights to the popular character over to Disney in 1961. Disney then developed all of the movies, television programs, and other merchandise that centers around the loveable, bumbling bear.

The family claims that Disney has concealed the amount of money that it has made from all of this merchandise.

This legal claim is not the first made by the Slesinger family. They had filed legal proceedings which questioned who held the licensing rights. The court found that Disney did indeed hold the licensing rights.

The family acknowledges that while this is true, that there are still royalties that they are owed. Slesinger family spokesman Lonnie Soury told BBC: "Though the decision established that Disney is the licensee, we are still owed hundreds of millions of dollars. We don't know exactly what that figure is because Disney accounting is Hollywood accounting."

Meanwhile, Disney thinks that the family's allegations are absurd. The company's spokeswoman Michelle Bergman told BBC  that the family's legal action was "baffling". She also said: "We've always acknowledged that some of the rights we obtained are royalty bearing and continue to be so."

The Slesinger family seems to have had a history of fighting with Disney. Shortly after the parties renewed an agreement for TV shows which gave Disney 98% of the profits and the family 2%, the estate sued claiming that they were underpaid. This claim was never even considered because the judge found out that an investigator for the family had stolen confidential information from Disney's offices. The judge immediately threw out the case.

Talk about pooh poohing a case!

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