High court turns away Disney in Pooh appeal

Walt Disney Co. lost a round at the nation's highest court Monday in a 15-year-old legal feud with the company that owns the merchandising rights to Winnie the Pooh characters.

The Supreme Court, without comment, turned away an appeal by Clare Milne, granddaughter of Pooh creator A.A. Milne. Clare Milne and Disney have been working together to wrest rights away from Stephen Slesinger Inc., which traces its stake in the Pooh characters to a 1930 agreement with A.A. Milne. Disney was seeking to end its obligation to pay royalties to Slesinger.

English author A.A. Milne sold the rights to his Pooh creations in 1930 to Stephen Slesinger, a New York literary agent. When Slesinger died in 1953, the rights passed to his widow, Shirley. In 1961, she agreed to license the rights to Disney in return for a cut of the company's revenue from sales of merchandise.

At the Supreme Court, Clare Milne sought to invoke a provision in federal copyright law that in some circumstances lets family members of authors recapture the rights to works that prove unexpectedly popular.

An appeals court said that legal provision didn't apply because of a 1983 renegotiation of the Pooh rights. That agreement involved Disney, the Slesinger company and Christopher Robin Milne, A.A.'s son and Clare's father.

Disney, which didn't formally take part in Clare Milne's appeal, is paying her legal expenses, Slesinger said in court papers. The copyrights for Milne's four Pooh books expire around 2020.


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