After 13 Years, Judge Dismisses Case On Pooh Bear Royalties

A good case study on the importance of how to state the facts.

From The New York Times:

“The Walt Disney Company prevailed on Monday in a 13-year legal dispute over royalties related to its Winnie the Pooh franchise when a judge dismissed the case, contending the plaintiff altered confidential memorandums and covered up the theft of documents obtained by a private investigator who sifted through the company’s trash.”

This is a good case study on how the statement of the “facts” can make or break a case. Here is a plaintiff-friendly version of the facts (with some writer’s embellishment to illustrate my point):

  • In the 1930s, A. A. Milne, the creator of Winnie the Pooh, Eeyore and other characters, sold the merchandising rights to his characters to Stephen Slesinger, a New York literary agent.
  • In 1961, long before the commercialization of video cassettes, computer games, CDs, and DVDs, Disney purchase the merchandising rights from Shirley Slesinger Lasswell, the wife of Stephen Slesinger. Not surprisingly, the contract was silent on video cassettes, computer games, CDs, and DVDs.
  • In the 1980s and 1990s, Disney started selling Pooh-related video cassettes, computer games, CDs, and DVDs by the truckload bud did not pay royalties to Slesinger for these sales.
  • The Slesingers hired an investigator, who ended up looking through proprietary trash for evidence.
  • In 1991, the Slesingers sued Disney, and a mere 13 years later, the case was dismissed.

Or something like that. If the case is appealed, it will live or die on how the facts are stated. And if the plaintiffs prevail, they win not money but the chance to have their case heard on the merits. By the time the case is over, the Pooh characters may end up in the public domain. Assuming, that is, that no more laws like the 10/28/98 Sonny Bonno Copyright Term Extension Act (CTEA) are passed.

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