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.
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.