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The Bare Necessities

Gilkyson family sues Walt Disney Company for royalties

By Chase Hoffberger, 12:07PM, Thu. Jul. 18, 2013

Eliza Gilkyson
Eliza Gilkyson
photo by Sandy Carson

Local songwriter Eliza Gilkyson and her two siblings have filed a lawsuit against the Walt Disney Company seeking unpaid royalties for the sale of recordings by their father, the late Terry Gilkyson, who wrote songs for 1967 film The Jungle Book.

In a suit filed on Tuesday, Eliza, Tony, and Nancy Gilkyson charged that the multinational media company withheld substantial royalties after their father died in 1999. His contributions to the classic Rudyard Kipling retelling include “The Bare Necessities,” a signature Disney fusion of song and animation.

Central is the assertion that the Walt Disney Company owes the estate of Terry Gilkyson for any fees overlooked because the language of the 1967 agreement between the two parties made no mention of VHS or DVD sales.

The agreement says Disney would pay “an amount of money equal to 50% of the net amount received by our music publisher on account of licensing or other disposition of the mechanical reproduction rights in and to materials written by you,” but doesn’t specify formats.

“[VHS and DVD sales] were not contemplated by the agreement in 1967,” affirms Alan Milstein, an attorney at Sherman, Silverstein, Kohl, Rose & Podolsky, P.A., who’s representing the Gilkysons in this case. “The way the law works, and copyright works, is that there’s a distinction between what’s called ‘mechanicals’ and what’s called ‘theatricals.’

“‘Mechanicals,’ by definition, are recordings. ‘Theatricals,’ by definition, are live performances, or if you show a movie in a movie theater or a movie on television. A DVD or a video: by definition, those things are included as ‘mechanicals’ rather than ‘theatricals,’ so they should be entitled to royalties of those sales.”

Milstein told the Chronicle that the Gilkysons aren’t currently seeking any specific figure or amount, reiterating that Disney has sold an estimated 4 million copies of The Jungle Book “in different variations of video and DVD.”

The lawsuit also attests that The Jungle Book DVD offers recordings of additional songs Disney commissioned Gilkyson to write. In addition to the “The Bare Necessities,” he wrote six other songs that weren’t in the film.

“It’s so obvious that those are audio recordings that are included as part of the package,” says Milstein. “His estate should be entitled to royalties for each of those songs for each copy of the DVD or video sold.”

The Walt Disney Company has not responded to our request for comment.

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