Copyright

Merry Christmas from SpicyIP: Some Thoughts on the "Grinch"


Dear Readers,

Here’s wishing you a merry Christmas and a fabulous New Year ahead. We’ll be bringing you some additional features in the New Year–so please stay tuned.

And in the meantime, here’s a story that connects up IP and Christmas, and one that I picked up from Manon Ress’s posting on the wonderful A2k (Access to knowledge) listserve hosted by KEI.

Of course, the writer misses some of the finer nuances in our exotic IP jurisprudence—for e.g., the domain name “christmas.com” being owned by an unknown Isle of Man entity does not in any way suggest an unfair or small hearted IP regime!

Given our earlier post on an opaque entity that goes by the name of PPL and its propensity to bully folks into buying blanket licenses (particularly during the festive season, when music and wine flow freely), the title “How the Grich Stole Christmas” in the story below could not have been more apt. Unless of course, some of our establishments decide to stand up and fight them. Anyway, enjoy the story…

Who Owns Christmas?

William Pentland, 12.10.08, 11:20 AM EST

‘Tis the season for intellectual property lawyers.

In late November, Louisville, Ky., abruptly abandoned plans for a Christmas display based on the story “How the Grinch Stole Christmas.”

It wasn’t because of public uproar, or the big green meanie terrifying small children. No, it was the cease-and-desist letter from lawyers representing the estate of legendary children’s author Dr. Seuss, threatening to sue for copyright infringement if the city went ahead with the Grinch-themed display.

“It appears these lawyers’ hearts are two sizes too small,” Louisville Mayor Jerry Abramson told reporters at the time.

Same thing happened in Medford, Mass. The town narrowly escaped a copyright infringement suit for a Christmas celebration called “Jingle Bells Festival.” Medford officials agreed to rename the festival next year after Black Crow Media, a company based in Valdosta, Ga., filed a lawsuit alleging infringement.

So be warned. Christmas may be a lot of things, but it’s also a boon for lawyers, as owners of some of your most beloved holiday traditions defend their intellectual property rights from all comers.

Santa Claus is a case in point. Father Christmas, a British company and owner of Santa-Claus.com, owns a trademark for “Santa Claus.” Trademark experts say that “Santa Claus” has become part of the public domain and that the trademark probably would not pass muster in a legal challenge. But apparently, the U.S. Patent and Trade Office didn’t agree. In 2000, it added the “Santa Claus” trademark to the long list of approved holiday-themed, legally recognized trademarks, which include everything from “Santa’s Elf” clothing to “St. Nick’s” beer to “Santa Claws” pet apparel.

Domain names are also a holiday legal hot spot. GlobalAccess, an obscure company located on the equally obscure Isle of Man, has owned Christmas.com since 1994. Versimedia, which also owns GreetingCards.com, has owned Hanukkah.com since 1997. P. Gordon, owner of Getaway.com and UnitedStates.com, owns Holidays.com.

And those pictures of your kids with the mall Santa? You may own the print, but not the image itself. That belongs to the individual or institution that took the photograph. Unless you shot the photograph with your own camera, making copies of a print is illegal. Unfortunately, most people only discover this when an unlucky clerk at Kinko’s or Wal-Mart refuses to create a copy without permission from the copyright owner.

Even asking for presents is in legal limbo. Much to the chagrin of computer-savvy children everywhere, a company in Florida called Channel Intelligence says it owns the rights to digital wish lists. Last week, it filed a lawsuit against half a dozen Internet start-ups alleging patent infringement, saying they had violated the patent by creating ways for users to create wish lists for products that people may want others to buy for them.

For Arthur Rankin Jr., creator of Claymation TV classics like Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer, Frosty the Snowman and The Year Without a Santa Claus, it’s all become a bit much.

“If I had written the Grinch story, I would let the people in Louisville use it,” says Rankin. “These days it can seem more like the Grinch who stole Hollywood sometimes.”

Rankin is trying to recover more than $2 million in royalties from Warner Bros., which he says failed to pay him contractual fees for broadcasting the holiday specials. Warner Bros. declined to comment on the case.

Shamnad Basheer

Shamnad Basheer

Prof. (Dr.) Shamnad Basheer founded SpicyIP in 2005. He's also the Founder of IDIA, a project to train underprivileged students for admissions to the leading law schools. He served for two years as an expert on the IP global advisory council (GAC) of the World Economic Forum (WEF). In 2015, he received the Infosys Prize in Humanities in 2015 for his work on legal education and on democratising the discourse around intellectual property law and policy. The jury was headed by Nobel laureate, Prof. Amartya Sen. Professional History: After graduating from the NLS, Bangalore Prof. Basheer joined Anand and Anand, one of India’s leading IP firms. He went on to head their telecommunication and technology practice and was rated by the IFLR as a leading technology lawyer. He left for the University of Oxford to pursue post-graduate studies, completing the BCL, MPhil and DPhil as a Wellcome Trust scholar. His first academic appointment was at the George Washington University Law School, where he served as the Frank H Marks Visiting Associate Professor of IP Law. He then relocated to India in 2008 to take up the MHRD Chaired Professorship in IP Law at WB NUJS, a leading Indian law school. Later, he was the Honorary Research Chair of IP Law at Nirma University and also a visiting professor of law at the National Law School (NLS), Bangalore. Prof. Basheer has published widely and his articles have won awards, including those instituted by ATRIP, the Stanford Technology Law Review and CREATe. He was consulted widely by the government, industry, international organisations and civil society on a variety of IP issues. He also served on several government committees.

3 comments.

  1. AvatarAnonymous

    @Anonymous (9:47 PM)
    The question would then be whether you would then license it out (thus making a whole lot of money) or would you use it to merely prevent others from being stupid and greedy for 20 years? 🙂

    Reply

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