Monday, January 26, 2004

The latest chapter in a long running dispute over the merchandising rights to Winnie the Pooh, closed in a Federal Appeals court on 15th January. The court blocked A.A. Milne's grandaughter's attempts to reclaim the rights from the Slesinger family.

Disney are backing Claire Milne because they are in dispute with the Slesingers over non payment of royalties. The case will continue as the court refused to rule on the substance of Milne's claims until the rights of Ernest Shepard's heirs could be sorted out. Shepard was the illustrator of the original stories.

Another children's character, Peter Pan, is the focal point of a transatlantic copyright dispute between Canadian author Emily Somma and the Great Ormond Street Hospital lawyers. It's a long story but briefly Ms Somma wrote and published a book in the US and Canada about Peter Pan growing up. Lawyers for the hospital's trustees want her to stop distributing the book, because under a 1988 copyright law the UK Parliament has granted the hospital a perpetual "right to a royalty" for "the public performance, commercial publication, broadcasting or inclusion in a cable programme service" of "the play 'Peter Pan' ... or of any adaptation of that work."

Peter Pan originally appeared in J.M.Barrie's book, The Little White Bird, published in 1902, the copyright of which has now expired. So Emily Somma believes she should be able to produce a derivative work. It seems she also offered to pay the hospital trustees a proportion of the royalties from the sales of her book.
Given that under US or Canadian law she would not be required to do this, it seems a pretty fair gesture.

It looks as though the lawyers are locked into an all or nothing mode which will just end up costing everybody. One of those cases that you would hope would never go to court.

The Stanford Cyberlaw Clinic maintains a faq on the case. Elizabeth Rader is acting as Ms Somma's lawyer.

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