Disney Accused Of "Sneak Attack" In Pooh Royalties Fight
Yet another twist in the bitter battle for Winnie the Pooh royalties surfaced this week when Disney reportedly made an announcement that the granddaughter of Pooh creator A.A. Milne and the granddaughter of Pooh illustrator E. H. Shepard have decided to reclaim all rights to the characters. According to an AP report, Disney cited a clause in the 1998 Sonny Bono Copyright Extension Act that will allow the heirs to reclaim the international rights granted to Disney, as well as rights granted to Stephen Slesinger Inc. and grant all those rights exclusively to Disney starting in 2004. The claim was immediately challenged by an attorney representing the Slesinger family, which owns U.S. and Canadian rights for Winnie the Pooh and has been in a decade-long legal battle with Disney over royalties. In a statement, Slesinger family attorney Bert Fields stated: "Disney must be desperate to try such a cynical and devious scheme to get out of paying what it promised. This sneak attack is just their latest tactic to avoid facing the fact that they may be out up to $1 billion in back royalties and the loss of Winnie the Pooh rights." Fields went on to say that if Disney had encouraged a Milne heir to try to cancel the grant to Slesinger, it "may have liability going far beyond breach of contract. I can't wait to get this latest Disney maneuver in front of a jury." This is the latest in a number of remarkable events in the protracted legal fight. On October 25, 2002 accountants hired by the court to audit Disney's records were officially fired by Los Angeles County Superior Court Judge Ernest M. Hiroshige, who had determined that the accountants were biased in favor of Disney and their auditing methods unreliable. In a separate ruling in June 2001, Judge Hiroshige imposed sanctions on Disney after finding it destroyed thousands of documents in the case.