The United States Court of Appeals for the Ninth Circuit has denied an appeal by Clare Milne and Disney to recapture the rights under copyright to Winnie the Pooh from the Slesinger family, originally granted in an agreement with author A. A. Milne in the '30s.
In November of 2002, Disney said Clare Milne had initiated complex copyright-law maneuvers in an effort to reclaim the rights to Pooh. In May, a Federal District court ruled in favor of the Slesingers, leading to Milne's appeal, which Disney joined.
The decision clears the way for a full trial scheduled on claims by the Slesinger family that Disney owes them hundreds of millions of dollars for failure to pay them for all commercial uses of Pooh, as well as on royalties based upon gross sales as stipulated by their contract over the past 20 years.
A. A. Milne licensed Pooh characters to the Slesingers in the '30s, who in turn assigned rights to Disney in 1961. In 1983, Disney convinced the heirs of A.A. Milne and the Slesingers to enter a new agreement.
The most profitable of all the characters Disney markets, Pooh is estimated to be worth between $3 billion and $6 billion in annual revenue. Disney's total annual revenues are $25 billion. The Slesinger family has asked for a judgment that would include compensatory damages of at least $700 million, unspecified punitive damages and the right to terminate all future rights of Disney to exploit Winnie the Pooh characters.