13 years on, Disney enjoys 'Winnieng' feeling

MUMBAI: Number 13 seems lucky for Walt Disney Co. A 13-year legal battle that the Little Big Mouse has been fighting to protect its proprietership over millions of dollars in merchandising rights for the much loved Winnie the Pooh character has been decided in its favour.

A Los Angeles judge ruled in Disney's favour on Monday, 30 March, after finding that "the accusers systematically stole and altered Disney documents to gain advantage at the trial".

The ruling by Los Angeles Superior Court Judge Charles McCoy Jr., following a weeklong hearing on Disney's so-called "trash motion" to dismiss the case brought by Stephen Slesinger Inc., said that that the Pooh rights-owner had "tampered with the administration of justice" by unlawfully obtaining Disney documents in the case.

The dispute, ongoing since 1991, centered around allegations that Disney had avoided paying royalties to the heirs of Stephen Slesinger by not reporting sales of Pooh merchandise to foreign licensees for years and not paying on other items allegedly covered by their licensing agreement as per various media reports.

Stephen Slesinger purchased the rights from Pooh creator AA Milne in 1929. His widow had licensed the rights to Walt Disney Jr in 1969. The allegation that it backed out of a royalty agreement with the Slesingers was denied by Disney and also stated that losing the case could cost the company hundreds of millions of dollars.

$ 6 million is spawned in revenue by Winnie the Pooh for Disney every year, which is more than any other character the company markets.

In February, Disney asked Judge Charles McCoy of the California Superior Court's Complex Litigation Court to throw out the case against it, alleging the Slesingers stole and doctored Disney documents.

The Slesingers denied stealing the documents but did say that they obtained the documents from Disney's "publicly accessible" trash containers.

Bret Fausett, an attorney for Stephen Slesinger Inc. said that the family will file an appeal, saying the evidence presented in the case does not support the judge's decision, according to media reports.

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