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Disney Seeks to Reverse Pooh Ruling

Firm tries to convince judge that author's heir is entitled to reclaim merchandising rights.

May 06, 2003|Richard Verrier | Times Staff Writer

The granddaughter of Winnie the Pooh's creator should be able to reclaim U.S. merchandising rights to the beloved children's book character, Walt Disney Co. argued Monday in federal court in Los Angeles.

The Burbank-based entertainment giant is hoping to persuade U.S. District Judge Florence-Marie Cooper to reverse her tentative ruling against Clare Milne, one that could cost the company millions in royalties and merchandising rights.

The judge indicated that she plans to rule by the end of the week.

The dispute dates to British author A.A. Milne's decision in 1930 to sell the rights to the beloved character to Stephen Slesinger, a New York literary agent. Now, Milne's only surviving heir, Clare Milne, is trying to regain those rights from Slesinger's heirs, including his widow, Shirley Slesinger Lasswell.

"We're confident that she [Cooper] will see it our way," Disney attorney Daniel Petrocelli said after the hearing. He said the opposition's "view of the law is completely wrong."

Attorney James Hornstein, who is representing the Slesingers, said: "We thought the hearing went very well. We saw no indication that Judge Cooper will depart from her tentative ruling."

The ruling is significant because if Clare Milne is successful, she probably would turn the rights over to Disney, and the firm would be freed of royalty obligations to the Slesingers beyond 2004.

Adding to the complicated legal matter is a separate suit the Slesingers have filed against Disney, claiming the company owes them hundreds of millions in unpaid royalties.

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