Disney Enterprises (search) may have to sell its trademarks in South Africa to pay for damages if a poor family wins a lawsuit claiming it lost millions in royalties from the hit song "The Lion Sleeps Tonight." (search)

Solomon Linda


Lawyers for Linda's family obtained a court order in July attaching more than 240 trademarks registered here to their $1.6 million lawsuit 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.

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 $15,000, according to their lawyers.

"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 Tuesday 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 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.

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 $15 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.