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Last Updated: Wednesday, 7 July, 2004, 09:29 GMT 10:29 UK
Disney rebuffs Lion song claim
The Lion King
The Lion King film was made into a stage show
Disney has denied it is liable to pay a South African family $1.6m (898,000) in royalties for using the song The Lion Sleeps Tonight.

The company is being sued after the song appeared in The Lion King.

Lawyers for the family of the song's original composer, Zulu migrant worker Solomon Linda, launched the action.

Mr Linda sold the copyright to a local firm in 1939, but his lawyers say it should have reverted to his heirs 25 years after his death in 1962.

The case will be filed in South Africa next week.

Disney says it obtained the right to use the song from New York firm Abilene Music, which administers its copyright in the US.

The issue should be taken up with that company as it licensed the rights, Disney said in a statement.

Tight Fit

Mr Linda composed the song, called Mbube, in 1939 and it has since been recorded by at least 150 artists around the world.

It features in The Lion King's film and stage versions.

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".

US 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 reportedly earned more than $15m (8.4m) because of its use in the The Lion King movies, but Mr Linda's family received $15,000 (8,400).

Further cases

Owen Dean, lawyer for the Linda family, said: "The family is entitled to royalties.

"There has also been a misappropriation of South African culture - the song is thought to be American."

Mr Linda sold his rights to the song to a local company in South Africa, when the country was governed by British law.

Under those laws, his lawyers say copyright should have reverted to his three daughters and 10 grand-children in 1987, 25 years after his death.

Executors of Mr Linda's estate are seeking a further 6 million rand ($970,000 or 524,000) from three South African companies who have benefited from royalty income from the song.

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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