Disney has three weeks to respond to a $1.6 million compensation suit filed by a Soweto family that says it lost royalties from the hit song “The Lion Sleeps Tonight,” a family lawyer said Tuesday.
The song, popularized in the long-running theater production and cartoon movie “The Lion King” was originally written in 1939 by Solomon Linda, a Zulu migrant worker turned songwriter.
Disney has denied liability, but it has not filed a legal response to the suit filed in the Pretoria High Court earlier this month.
Owen Dean, the family’s lawyer, said in a statement that Disney has until August 12 to give notice of its intention to defend the matter in court.
Dean said the summons and particulars of the claim were served on Disney Enterprises Inc. in the U.S. on July 13 and to South African entertainment groups shortly afterward.
“If any of the parties fail to give notice of their intention to defend the action by the respective due dates, judgment will be entered against such party by default,” Dean said.
The Africa manager for Burbank, California-based Disney, Christine Service, declined to comment, saying the matter was being dealt with by the group’s lawyers.
Linda died penniless in 1962, having sold away the rights to the song, originally titled “Mbube,” to a South African publisher. It went on to generate an estimated $15 million in royalties after it was adapted by other artists, including the American songwriter George Weiss, whose version is featured in Disney’s “The Lion King.”