The dispute over royalties between Stephen Slesinger Inc. and the Walt Disney Company had its initial beginning in 1981. Lasswell was on a trip to Walt Disney World in Orlando, Florida. Lasswell was buying Pooh merchandise in the park (she described herself as a "Pooh shopaholic") when she said she noticed that she wasn't receiving a royalty payments for much of the merchandise that she saw being sold. Lasswell hired a lawyer to look into the matter.
In 1991, Stephen Slesinger Inc. filed a lawsuit against the Walt Disney Company, claiming that Disney had breached their contract and miscalculated the royalties owed to Lasswell under the 1961 Pooh licensing deal. Specifically, the lawsuit claimed that Disney had failed to pay millions of dollars in additional royalties for Pooh related products not specifically covered in the 1961 licensing agreement, but promised in a verbal agreement with Disney representatives. The products in question included computer software, DVDs, videos and other electronic merchandise. The Walt Disney Company denied owing any additional royalties.
Despite the lawsuit, Winnie The Pooh became even more profitable for the Walt Disney Company since the 1990s. The Pooh franchise reportedly brings in more than one billion dollars a year for Disney, which is more than its Mickey Mouse related merchandise.
The Winnie The Pooh legal battle between Stephen Slesinger, Inc. and Disney has continued for more than 16 year from 1991 to present day. The breach of contract lawsuit has so far involved three judges and a dozen separate law firms in both the California Superior Court and the U.S. federal courts.
There have been victories and defeats for both Disney and Stephen Slesinger, Inc., with both sides winning and losing key legal battles. Disney was sanctioned when it was found to have destroyed 40 boxes of paperwork related to the Pooh dispute. A California state judge threw out the lawsuit in 2004 after finding that misconduct had been committed by the Lasswell family. The judge accused Lasswell of hiring a private investigator in order to obtain Disney company documents from the trash. He also alleged that the Lasswell family altered court papers in order to cover up the charges. The 2004 decision by the California state judge is currently being appealed by the Lasswell family as of 2007. A federal ruling of 28 September 2009 from Judge Florence-Marie Cooper determined that the Slesinger family had granted all trademark and copyright rights to Disney, although Disney must pay royalties for all future use of the characters. Both parties have expressed satisfaction with the outcome.
Read more about this topic: Shirley Slesinger Lasswell
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