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Children's hospital may sue Disney

By CNN's Graham Jones

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Classic image: Mary Martin flies as Peter Pan on American TV in 1955
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Disney Walt Co
J.M. Barrie
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Ridley Pearson

LONDON, England (CNN) -- An unlikely feud is seeing the film empire that built its name on cartoons for children -- the giant Disney corporation -- at odds with Britain's most famous hospital for sick children.

And it is all over another legendary children's favorite -- Peter Pan, the boy who never grew up.

In what the New York Post billed this week as "Sick kids vs. Disney in Peter Pan dust up," Great Ormond Street hospital for children in London is consulting lawyers over a book published by a Disney subsidiary in the United States.

"Peter and the Starcatchers" by Dave Barry and Ridley Pearson and published by Disney's Hyperion Books is billed as a prequel to the children's classic, "Peter Pan."

Great Ormond Street was left the royalties to Peter Pan in 1929 by the author, J.M. Barrie -- and million of pounds earned from copyright fees have gone towards treating sick children in Britain ever since.

This weekend sees the UK premiere of a film about Barrie's life, "Finding Neverland" -- starring Johnny Depp, Kate Winslet and Dustin Hoffman. The hospital will receive royalties from book excerpts portrayed in the film.

But the hospital charity says is getting nothing from "Peter and the Starcatchers" -- which has been on the New York Times best seller lists, has had an extensive author tour and has its own Web site. They say the book has been published without its permission.

A spokesman for the hospital told CNN that Great Ormond Street held the copyright to Peter Pan in the United States until 2023 -- although it runs out in EU countries in 2007 -- and said: "We are considering our options."

Disney, meanwhile, has insisted that Peter Pan is out of copyright in the United States.

"The copyright to the J.M. Barrie stories expired in the U.S. prior to 1998, the effective date of the U.S. Copyright Extension Act, and thus were ineligible for any extension of their term," Disney said in a statement to the Daily Telegraph.

Great Ormond Street argues that it could cost millions which would otherwise go towards helping sick children. It says it may not be able to afford a costly court case in the United States.

The spokesman says: "J.M. Barrie gave the copyright in Peter Pan to the hospital in 1929 and since then the royalties have been a significant but confidential source of income for the hospital. J.M. Barrie died in 1937 so copyright in the EU runs until 2007 and until 2023 in the U.S."

Copyright in the U.S. was extended from 2007 to 2023 because of the U.S. Copyright Extension Act, he said.

Lawyers

He added that the hospital had engaged leading London media lawyers, Simkins, to act on its behalf.

The Web site for "Peter and the Starcatchers" by Barry, a Pulitzer prize winning humorist, and Pearson, an American crime writer, tells of "a fast paced adventure on the high seas and a faraway island." It stars an orphan boy called Peter and the action involves a boat called "Never Land."

"Award-winning authors Dave Barry and Ridley Pearson have turned back the clock and revealed a wonderful story that precedes J.M. Barrie's beloved Peter Pan."

The launch of the book came as the hospital themselves are hoping to cash in on "Peter Pan" authorship.

They are inviting authors to compete for the chance to write the "official" sequel to Peter Pan for publishing in the autumn of next year -- thereby extending the royalties.


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