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Firm pays heirs of ‘Lion’ song composer

Family lives in poverty in Soweto; song has earned $15 million
/ Source: Reuters

A U.S. company has settled a long-running legal dispute with a South African family over the copyright to “The Lion Sleeps Tonight,” one of Africa’s most famous tunes, lawyers said Friday.

Lawyers acting for the family of Zulu migrant worker Solomon Linda, the song’s original composer, said Abilene Music -- which administered its copyright in the United States -- had agreed to settle the dispute for an undisclosed sum.

“The amount is confidential ... but it’s been described as an amount which is suitable for the family’s needs and includes both back payments for royalties as well as future payments,” lawyer Herman Blignaut told Reuters.

Linda’s family live in poverty in the Johannesburg township of Soweto and were originally claiming 10 million rand ($1.6 million) in damages against the company.

“The family are obviously very happy that this matter has been settled and they have something to show for it ... a trust has been established to manage the funds and give them guidance as it’s a significant sum of money,” Blignaut said.

The song has earned an estimated $15 million since it was written in 1939 after being recorded by at least 150 artists around the world. It also features in the Walt Disney Co. film “Lion King” film, as well as on stage.

The law firm of Spoor and Fisher originally brought the case against Disney, as they had no jurisdiction against Abilene Music in South Africa. Disney has repeatedly said it obtained the copyright for the song properly from Abilene.

Abilene Music confirmed it had agreed to pay compensation for administering the copyright.

“It is confirmed that ’The Lion Sleeps Tonight’ was derived from Mbube and that Solomon Linda was therefore a co-author of the musical work,” it said in a statement received by Reuters on Friday. “Mbube” was the original title of Linda’s song.

“Solomon Linda’s heirs will now receive appropriate compensation for past and future uses of ’The Lion Sleeps Tonight,”’ the statement said.

Linda’s relatives were not available for comment.