Yahoo reports that the US Supreme Court refused to hear an appeal by AA Milne’s granddaughter Clare to cancel a licence to the Winnie the Pooh characters from the estate of a long-time licensee so she could license them to Disney.

According to a scanned article on the website of the licensee’s lawyer’s firm, Disney was a co-plaintiff of Clare Milne’s at trial, but did not join the appeal. The estate of the licensee, Stephen Slesinger, won both the trial and appeal to the Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals from which Milne unsuccessfully sought certiorari.

According to the Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals judgment, Slesinger acquired merchandising rights to Winne the Pooh characters in a 1930 contract with AA Milne himself. In 1961, Slesinger granted Disney an exclusive licence, for which Disney paid royalties both the the Milne family and Slesinger. When the 1976 Copyright Act extended the term of copyright, it also granted the Milne family the right to terminate previous licensing arrangements. In 1983, the parties renegotiated the contract, giving the Milne family a larger share of the royalties in exchange for a promise not to terminate the licensing agreement.

A similar situation arose when, in 1998, Congress again extended the copyright term under the Sonny Bono Copyright Extension Act, and again granted the right to terminate prior licensing agreements. Milne then sought to terminate the earlier agreement, and sought to enter into a new agreement directly with Disney.

The District Court held that the 1998 Act only allowed termination of licensing agreements entered into prior to 1978, and that the 1983 agreement had already terminated the 1930 agreement, and was now the controlling agreement. It survived and precluded Milne from terminating the Slesinger licence. Of interest is the concluding remark:

At bottom, Clare contends that the 1983 agreement did not give her as much money as she would like to receive. Such a position, however, does not amount to a viable termination right under the CTEA.