Late last month, a federal judge granted the Disney company’s motion to dismiss a copyright and trademark infringement claim brought against it by the family of Stephen Slesinger. In doing so, over 18 years of legal battles between the two may be over.
Stephen Slesinger was a pioneer in the entertainment industry in the first half of the 1900’s. Aside from his creative abilities, Slesinger also had a keen business mind and was among the first to realize the financial benefits of licensing popular animated characters.
The most noted example of this occurred in the 1930’s, when Slesinger acquired the U.S. and Canadian rights to A. A. Milne’s Winnie The Pooh. Slesinger even added his own touches to the character such as the red shirt so commonly identified with Pooh today.
With his death in 1953, his widow continued to promote the character until she licensed the rights to the Disney Company. Disney, for its part, took the bear and made it the center of a multi-billion dollar franchise.
Evidently not content with receiving the royalties from Disney, the Slesinger family started legal proceedings in 1991. They claimed Disney was not paying a sufficient amount, but the suit was thrown out of a state court.
Following that upset, the Slesinger family turned to the federal courts with a copyright infringement claim. After years of legal maneuvering, the case reached an end last month.
U.S. District Judge Florence-Marie Cooper determined that the Slesinger family no longer controlled the copyright and trademark to Pooh and friends.
“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 said in her decision.
After hearing the verdict, Slesinger’s daughter, Patricia Slesinger stated that she hoped the two sides would once again be able to cooperate as they once had done.