Walt Disney wants its Mickey Mouse back. The U.S. entertainment giant went to a South African court Aug. 24 seeking to set aside an order that holds some 240 of its most famous trademarks -- including
(Reuters) -- Walt Disney wants its Mickey Mouse back. The U.S. entertainment giant went to a South African court Aug. 24 seeking to set aside an order that holds some 240 of its most famous trademarks -- including Mickey Mouse and Donald Duck -- hostage to the outcome of a multimillion-dollar lawsuit over the copyright to the song "The Lion Sleeps Tonight."
Lawyers for the family of the song's original composer, South African migrant worker Solomon Linda, have sued Walt Disney in Pretoria for infringement of copyright to the song, one of Africa's most famous melodies.
South Africa's High Court earlier ordered that Disney be denied the right to dispose of South African rights to the world-famous trademarks pending resolution of the case.
The move, while largely symbolic, tied Mickey Mouse's fortunes to that of "The Lion Sleeps Tonight" -- now a cause celebre among South African artists who say the entertainment company has grown rich, while Linda's heirs remain impoverished.
The family's chief representative, Owen Dean, said earlier that while he has no axe to grind with Disney, he would "hold the Disney trademarks hostage pending resolution of the Linda family's claims."
A Disney spokeswoman in South Africa declined to comment on the case. But lawyers for the company told the court that various irregularities in the Lindas' suit meant the court order limiting Disney's control over its trademark assets in the country should be invalidated, court witnesses said.
Attorney Cedric Puckrin, representing the Linda estate, rejected the Disney charges, and urged Judge Hekkie Daniels to remember that the case was being heard "in a court of law, not Disney World."
"The Lion Sleeps Tonight," which has earned an estimated $15 million since it was written under the title "Mbube" in 1939, has been recorded by at least 150 artists around the world and is featured in Disney's "The Lion King" film and stage production.
Lawyers for Linda's family -- who live in poverty in the Johannesburg township of Soweto -- say that under laws in force in South Africa at the time, rights to the song should have reverted to Linda's heirs 25 years after his death in 1962.
Dean said the family was claiming 10 million rand ($1.5 million) in damages from Disney.
Disney has argued that it obtained the right to use the song properly from Abilene Music, the New York firm that administers the copyright in the United States.
Disney lawyers also told the court that no clear case of copyright infringement had been proven, and that any claims for infringement should have been made against various Disney subsidiaries rather than the parent company.
Puckrin told the court that Linda's heirs were right to target Disney "as the mother company which controls everything and pulls the strings."
Daniels reserved judgment on Disney's urgent appeal to void the trademark attachments, which would give the plaintiffs rights over the South African use of some of the company's best-known characters if Walt Disney loses the case.