Judges tosses Pooh copyright claims against Disney

LOS ANGELES (Reuters) - A U.S. judge in Los Angeles dismissed remaining claims by the estate of long-time Winnie the Pooh licensee Stephen Slesinger against the Walt Disney Co in a copyright infringement case, court documents showed on Monday.

Characters (L-R) Winnie the Pooh, Tigger, Piglet and Eeyore, from the newest animated film " The Tigger Movie" from the Walt Disney Company, pose together at the film's premiere February 11 in Hollywood. REUTERS/Rose Prouser

The ruling by U.S. District Judge Florence-Marie Cooper brings to a close a legal battle waged since 1991 in several venues over potentially billions of dollars in royalties.

Stephen Slesinger Inc still has a claim against Disney pending before U.S. patent regulators, a Disney spokeswoman said.

“We are pleased with the ruling of the federal court dismissing all of SSI’s remaining claims,” Disney said in a statement.

A Slesinger spokesman could not be located for comment.

Slesinger, a New York television and film producer, obtained the exclusive merchandising and other rights to the Pooh works from author A.A. Milne in 1930 and transferred them to Disney in 1961 exchange for a regular royalty.

His heirs first sued Disney in California state court, claiming the entertainment giant had comingled Pooh and Mickey Mouse revenue to avoid paying them more than $700 million in royalties.

When trial and appellate judges threw out the case after 13 years of litigation over misconduct by a private investigator, the Slesinger heirs filed a federal copyright infringement case against Disney, which was attempting to strip Stephen Slesinger Inc of its rights to the honey-loving bear.

On Friday, Cooper granted Disney’s request for summary judgment and dismissed the Slesingers’ counter-claims saying the heirs had failed to describe what rights they still held to the “silly old bear.”

“The court is satisfied that under the clear terms of the parties’ agreements, SSI transferred all of its rights in the Pooh works to Disney, and may not now claim infringement of any retained rights,” Cooper wrote in her opinion.

The case is Clare Milne vs. Stephen Slesinger Inc and Stephen Slesinger Inc vs. Disney Enterprises et al., Case No. 02-cv-08508, U.S. District Court in Los Angeles. (Reporting by Gina Keating; editing by Caroll Bishopric)