Ten years after the release of the animated hit The Lion King, Disney is being sued for the film’s use of the song "The Lion Sleeps Tonight." According to Daily Variety, three daughters of late South African composer Solomon Linda claim copyright infringement and are asking for $1.6 million.
Linda sold the rights to his song to a South African record company for $1,000. The tune has gone on to earn $15 million in royalties. Disney says it lawfully licensed the rights, which Linda’s daughters claim should have reverted to them 25 years after their father’s death.
Linda died penniless in 1962 and his daughters are living in poverty in South Africa. If the court rules in their favor, it can start selling off the South African rights to Mickey Mouse, Donald Duck, Winnie the Pooh and a couple hundred other Disney brand names until damages are paid.
The song was first recorded in 1939 by Linda and his band under the title “Mbube.” American singer Pete Seeger popularized it with his 1951 version, "Wimoweh," and the Tokens secured its status as an enduring pop classic with their 1961 recording, “The Lion Sleeps Tonight.”