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Last Updated: Monday, 5 July, 2004, 16:24 GMT 17:24 UK
Family sues Disney over Lion song
The Lion King
The Lion King has also been transformed into a stage show
Disney is being sued $1.6m (898,000) by a South African family for alleged unpaid royalties for the use of the song The Lion Sleeps Tonight.

Lawyers acting on behalf of Solomon Linda's family are seeking payments for the song's appearance in The Lion King.

Mr Linda originally sold copyright to a local firm, but under British law at that time, it should have reverted to his heirs 25 years after his death.

The complaints will be filed in South Africa next week.

Linda was a migrant Zulu worker who came up with the melody for the song in 1939, calling the tune Mbube, and recording it with a group called the Evening Birds.

$15,000 payment

The song became one of the most popular in Africa. It was later discovered by the US folk singer Pete Seeger.

In his autobiography, Seeger said he had transcribed the song "note for note" and called it Wimoweh, taken from the Zulu word uyiMbube, which means "he is a lion".

U.S. songwriter George David Weiss rewrote the song as The Lion Sleeps Tonight. It was later covered by Dave Newman and Tight Fit, among others.

The song has allegedly earned more than $15m (8.4m) because of its use in the The Lion King movies, but Linda's family have only ever received $15,000 (8,400).

The family are entitled to royalties
Lawyer Owen Dean

Linda's 16-year old grandson Zathele Madonsela, who lives with his family in Soweto, told reporters: "Life is difficult, we are really struggling."

'Misappropriation'

"The court attached use of Disney trademarks in South Africa to the case last week. We believe our legal position is very sound," Owen Dean, lawyer for the Linda family, told reporters.

"The family are entitled to royalties. There has also been a misappropriation of South African culture - the song is thought to be American," he said.

Linda sold his rights to the song to a local company in South Africa, but under British law copyright reverted to his three daughters and 10 grand-children in 1987.

Executors of Mr Linda's estate are seeking a further 6 million rand from three South African companies who have benefited from royalty income from the song, which has so far been recorded by 140 bands.

It is thought the case could have implications for other songs written by South African musicians whose rights were sold, where artists may not have been aware of their entitlements under British copyright law.


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