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Pooh Case Heats Up With Theft Accusations

On Feb. 24, 2004, the epic legal battle between the Walt Disney Co. and Winnie the Pooh copyright holders, the Slesinger family, heated up with Disney accusations that the family stole and altered documents, reported REUTERS. Disney lawyers again asked Los Angeles County Superior Court Judge Charles McCoy, who took over the case in October, to throw out the case, which could lose Disney hundreds of millions of dollars.

The Slesinger family claims 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. In January, 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, which cleared the way for a full trial.

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.

Disney claims that the Slesinger family and various lawyers from the eight law firms that have represented them hired private investigators to steal documents from Disney offices. However, the Slesingers claim the received the documents from "publicly accessible Disney trash bins."

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