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Disney & Oscar Live Happily Ever After . . .

April 07, 1989|NINA J. EASTON | Times Staff Writer

A flap over Snow White's appearance on the Academy Awards telecast last week ended Thursday, as the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences apologized to the Walt Disney Co. for using the fairy-tale character in a 10-minute song-and-dance routine without first obtaining the company's permission.

In return, Disney--which owns the copyright to the Snow White character--agreed to settle a lawsuit against the academy that it had filed in federal court the morning after the March 29 awards telecast.

"As copyright holders ourselves of the Oscar statuette," said academy President Richard Kahn, "we appreciate the serious nature of these matters."

In a written statement, Kahn expressed his "sincere apologies to Disney" for the unauthorized use of Snow White and for "unintentionally creating the impression that Disney had participated in or sanctioned the opening production number on the Academy Awards telecast."

As portrayed on the awards show by singer-dancer Eileen Bowman, Snow White was a take-off of the famous Disney character. Steve Silver, who developed the character for the academy show, has used Snow White imitations in the San Francisco musical revue "Beach Blanket Babylon" for 15 years.

Under its agreement with the academy, Disney will settle its lawsuit in favor of a court stipulation forbidding the academy to reuse the Snow White portion of the broadcast, or to use the character in the future without Disney's permission. In fact, these stipulations won't have much effect on the academy: The Oscar telecast has already reached all 90 countries in its audience, and the academy does not intend to rebroadcast the show.

But by obtaining the court order, Disney will enhance its image as an ardent defender of its copyright holdings. The company routinely files suits against companies, such as consumer product manufacturers, for using Disney characters.

"The lawsuit was filed, among other things, to remedy the confusion surrounding Disney's perceived involvement with the opening of the Academy Awards telecast," Disney president Frank Wells said in a prepared statement. Wells added that the company is "gratified that (the academy was) willing to move so promptly to successfully resolve this matter."

But the matter apparently was not resolved as quickly as Disney wanted. Company officials said they filed the lawsuit last week only after failing to obtain a public apology from the academy.

"We regretted the situation from the very moment it was brought to my attention by Frank Wells last Thursday," said Kahn. "But because of the fact that it was the day after the Academy Awards, it was not a working day for staff and legal support."

It "literally took seven days" to work out the details of the agreement, Kahn said.

Kahn did not say how the academy let a potentially damaging legal snafu slip through the cracks, except to note that the academy prides itself on its "meticulousness in obtaining the proper legal clearances."

But Kahn refused to place any blame on Allan Carr, who produced the Academy Awards ceremony.

"He was in no way at fault," Kahn said. "If there was a fault, it rests with me and the academy."

Asked whether the flap has tarnished the image of last week's ceremony, Kahn said simply, "I would hope not."

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