“Winnie the Pooh” vs. The Walt Disney Company
In 1930, an American licensing pioneer named Stephen Slesinger bought “Winnie the Pooh” North American licensing rights from author A.A. Milne. Following his death in the ’50’s, Slesinger’s widow, Shirley, built Pooh merchandising by going door to door to New York’s top department stores. Then Walt Disney came calling. In 1961, Shirley granted Disney the licensing rights in exchange for a percentage of revenues; in a meeting at the Waldorf Astoria, Walt Disney himself told Shirley, “You won’t be sorry.” He was wrong. By the early ’80’s, Shirley became convinced that Disney’s royalty statements and relatively meager checks did not reflect the enormous sales of Pooh merchandise. Frustrated, in the early ’90’s she sued in an attempt to make Disney open its books on Pooh. Until 2002, Disney was able to keep a seal on what is the longest running lawsuit in Los Angeles Superior Court history. With Pooh Disney’s biggest earner, representing an estimated $3-6 billion in revenues annually, the stakes are high.
As Disney benefited by keeping a lid on the case for a decade, so the Slesinger family would benefit by having it public. That, as they say, is where we came in. Working closely with the family, as well as three teams of lawyers including the legendary entertainment attorney Bertram Fields, we have embarked upon a campaign to set the record straight and tell the “Pooh” story to major national and international media outlets. Since the summer of 2002, we have placed hundreds of feature articles on the case in publications including Time Magazine, Fortune Magazine, Forbes, Business Week, the Los Angeles Times and major market daily newspapers from Chicago to Miami, AP, Reuters, CNN, NBC, CBS, NPR, England’s Channel 4 TV, and media outlets around the world.
We have successfully raised awareness of the case in the public arena. The legal and public relations strategies are intertwined through building close working relationships with the three law firms. Stay tuned.