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Preserving Royalty Rights In a Treasured Icon

Winnie-the-Pooh Goes to Court

After over three years of court challenges at every level, including before the U.S. Supreme Court, Fross Zelnick successfully represented Stephen Slesinger, Inc. in preserving royalty rights, estimated in the press as exceeding $50 million, related to the exploitation of Winnie-the-Pooh and related characters. These court victories thwarted an attempt by Disney and author A.A. Milne's granddaughter to terminate Slesinger's right to receive royalties from merchandising rights that were granted by the author in 1930. The case involved the first judicial treatment of Section 304(d) of the U.S. Copyright Act, which was enacted as part of the Copyright Term Extension Act of 1998. Section 304(d) gives authors and their heirs the opportunity to recapture the authors' copyrights by permitting them to terminate pre-1978 copyright transfers in the authors' works. Slesinger sought summary judgment, arguing that the pre-1978 grant that Milne and Disney sought to terminate in 2002 already had been revoked by contract in 1983, when A.A. Milne's testamentary heirs made a new, post-1978 grant to Slesinger that was not subject to termination under the Copyright Act. The district court granted Slesinger's motion. Thereafter, the Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals affirmed the district court's decision, and the U.S. Supreme Court denied Milne's Petition for a Writ of Certiorari, which effectively ended Disney's and Milne's termination bid.