Disney Owns Rights |to Pooh, Judge Rules

     (CN) – A federal judge in Los Angeles dismissed the last vestiges of a long-running dispute between the Walt Disney Co. and a cartoon pioneer’s family over who owns the rights to Winnie the Pooh characters.

     U.S. District Judge Florence-Marie Cooper granted Disney’s motion to dismiss the copyright and trademark infringement claim brought by the family of Stephen Slesinger, a comic-strip creator who acquired the Pooh merchandising rights from author A.A. Milne in 1930.
     Slesinger’s widow later assigned the family’s rights to Disney, which turned the “willy, nilly, silly old bear” into the company’s most profitable character.
     The tug-of-war over the rights to the congenial bear began in 1991, when the Slesinger family sued Disney. Stephen Slesinger Inc. (SSI) asserted the primary rights to Winnie the Pooh characters.
     That lawsuit was dismissed in 2005, as a sanction for SSI’s having hired a private investigator to break into Disney offices and steal thousands of documents.
     A California appeals court affirmed dismissal of the Superior Court case, leading SSI to seek a federal venue.
     In its federal action, SSI claimed that Disney’s exploitation of the Pooh characters infringed its trademarks and copyrights.
     In May, Judge Cooper dismissed SSI’s claims for breach of contract, bad faith, fraud and declaratory judgment.
     She dismissed the remaining copyright and trademark claims in her latest ruling.
     “Stephen Slesinger Inc. transferred all of its rights in the Pooh works to Disney, and may not now claim infringement of any retained rights,” Cooper wrote.
     The ruling means that Disney, not the Slesinger family, controls the rights to Pooh and pals.

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