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Heirs seek additional royalties from Disney

Disney is currently facing a lawsuit from heirs to the man who wrote some of the songs related to the animated version of Rudyard Kipling's "The Jungle Book." The animated movie was released by Disney in 1967. According to the lawsuit, the man in question wrote several songs for the movie. However, only one song -- "The Bare Necessities" -- ended up in the movie.

Documents indicate that the man signed a contract with Disney. He agreed that Disney would be listed as the writer for the songs and that the songs could be used in conjunction with the movie. In return, Disney paid the man $1,000 for each song and also agreed to pay ongoing royalties for licensing and sheet music.

The lawsuit claims that Disney did make these payments and that in 1999, when the man passed away, Disney began making payments to his heirs. However, in 2013, the heirs filed a lawsuit. They claimed that Disney had failed to make royalty payments associated with DVD and VHS releases of the movie and songs.

First trial courts dismissed the lawsuit on the basis of a statute of limitations, which was four years for such cases in the state where the lawsuit was filed. The lawsuit was filed in 2013, but the VHS tape of the movie was released in 1991 and the DVD in 2007. The heirs amended the lawsuit to include re-releases of DVD and Blu-ray versions of the movie, but the trial court still sided with Disney.

An appeals court, however, has since received those decisions. The appellate judge cited a doctrine of law called the continuous accrual doctrine, saying this kept part of the heirs claims timely. While you probably aren't heir to a Disney song estate, statutes of limitation are an important concern for many heirs who are dealing with estate-related legal and royalty matters. As you can see from this case, working with a professional who understands the law and can argue for you up to and through appeals can help you make the best possible case.

Source: Courthouse News Service, "Songwriter's Heirs Advance 'Jungle Book' Case," Jeff D. Gorman, Feb. 29, 2016

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