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Alvin & The Chipmunks Owners Sue Universal

On Monday, September 11, 2000, the family that owns the rights to Alvin and the Chipmunks filed a US$105 million lawsuit against Universal Studios, claiming it failed to license products adequately based on the cartoon characters. According to the lawsuit filed in State Superior Court in Los Angeles, members of Chipmunks creator Ross Bagdasarian Sr.'s family claim that Universal executives told them that the studio would make Alvin, Theodore and Simon "a cornerstone" of the company's licensing efforts. Universals interest in the Chipmunks surrounded director Robert Zemeckis desire to make a feature films based on the characters. The suit alleges that Universal vowed to promote the Chipmunks within all divisions, which include a movie studio, theme parks, home video and various other product groups. The suit states that, "After development of the Zemeckis film was halted, Universal had no further interest in distributing, licensing or otherwise exploiting the Chipmunks and thereafter intentionally buried the Chipmunks in lieu of other properties." A spokeswoman for Universal Studios said that it is company policy not to comment on pending litigation. Bagdasarian created Alvin and the Chipmunks in 1958, drawing the characters, writing the music and even recording their high-pitched singing voices. After his passing in 1972, the rights reverted to his family. From 1981 through 1996, the Chipmunks averaged gross revenues from various licenses of about $4 million a year. However according to the suit, licensing activities under Universal grossed only an average of $70,000 per year.

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Rick DeMott
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