Granddaughter loses right to license Little Mole products in latest legal twist

Karolína Milerová, photo: ČTK/Vít Šimánek

The most famous Czech cartoon character, Krteček, or the Little Mole, has been the centre of legal disputes for some time. Now a court has ruled that the granddaughter of Krteček’s creator, the late Zdeněk Miler, can no longer grant licenses to produce Little Mole collectibles. Judges say that a contract Miler signed with his granddaughter shortly before his death was invalid.

Krteček,  photo: Robert Mikoláš
The Little Mole first appeared in a 1956 film entitled How the Mole Got his Trousers. The film went on to win a Silver Lion in Venice a year later and the Little Mole has since become one of the most loved cartoon characters all around the world.

When its creator Zdeněk Miler died in 2011, however, a bitter dispute flared up between his descendants over the copyright to the Little Mole. In a ruling on Monday, the Prague Supreme Court upheld an appeal by Milena Fischerová, who was authorised to administer Miler’s work in 2006.

Mrs Fischerová challenged the contract in which Miler granted the copyright to his granddaughter in September 2011, just two months before his death. According to the latest court ruling, which is legally binding, Mr Miler’s granddaughter does not own the rights to Little Mole collectibles and is not allowed to grant licences for their production.

Mrs Fischerová’s defence lawyer, Jiří Matzner, spoke after the ruling:

Milena Fischerová,  Jiří Matzner,  photo: ČTK/Vít Šimánek
“The companies [owned by Karolína Milerová] are offering products they are not entitled to sell or distribute. If they continue to do so, they will act unlawfully, because these products are depicting the Little Mole character. So they should immediately stop selling them.”

Following her grandfather’s death in 2011, Karolína Milerová established the Little Mole Company on the basis of the contract between them.

Today, a broad range of Little Mole products, from plush toys to bedlinen, are available in the shops. Some are licensed by the Little Mole Company while the others fall under the contract signed by Fischerová during Miler’s lifetime.

Mrs Milerová said she wasn’t sure what her next steps would be:

Karolína Milerová,  photo: ČTK/Vít Šimánek
“I did all that I could to defend the agreement. I cannot influence the fact that it didn’t stand up legally. I will try to defend my partners and do all I can to minimize the losses.”

The dispute over the copyrights to the Little Mole is not likely to end with Monday’s verdict. A new legal proceeding is expected to begin involving other descendants of Zdeněk Miler, who are demanding a share from the profits made by his granddaughter’s company.

According to estimates, profits from the Little Mole copyrights amount to millions of crowns a year. The total profits of the iconic cartoon character have been put at around 200 million crowns.