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Disney Enterprises Inc. lost a bid Tuesday to prevent its trademarks in South Africa from being sold off to pay for damages if it loses a court battle with a poor family that says it lost millions in royalties from the hit song “The Lion Sleeps Tonight.” Lawyers acting for the family of the late musician Solomon Linda, who penned the original song “Mbube” in 1939, obtained a court order in July attaching more than 240 trademarks registered in South Africa to their US$1.6 million (euro1.3 million) suit in order to establish local jurisdiction. The trademarks, which include well-known images such as Mickey Mouse and Donald Duck, could be sold locally to pay Linda’s heirs if they win their lawsuit, according to Tuesday’s ruling by the Pretoria High Court. “It means that Mickey Mouse is still in captivity,” said Adri Malan, spokesman for the family’s legal team. Joyce Lorigan, a London-based spokeswoman for Disney, said the judgment was disappointing but had no impact on the substance of the dispute. “The real issue in this lawsuit is whether Linda’s estate or Abilene Music Publishing — who bought the rights to the song from Linda’s wife — owns the copyright to ‘The Lion Sleeps Tonight,” Lorigan said in a statement. The action is based on laws in force in Commonwealth nations at the time the song was first recorded. Under these provisions, the rights to a song revert to the composer’s heirs 25 years after his death. No court date has been set for the case. Linda died penniless in 1962, having sold the rights to his original song to the South African company Abilene Music Publishing. It went on to generate an estimated US$15 million (euro12.3 million) in royalties after it was adapted by other artists, including the American songwriter George Weiss, whose version is featured in “The Lion King.” The song has been covered by at least 150 artists, including The Tokens, George Michael, Miriam Makeba and The Spinners. Linda’s three surviving daughters and 10 grandchildren, living in poverty in the Johannesburg township of Soweto, have received only a one-time payment of US$15,000 (euro12,358), according to their lawyers. Copyright 2004 Associated Press. All Rights Reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten, or redistributed.

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