How Dr. Seuss's Lawyers Ruined Christmas

from the no-whoville-in-lousville dept

Thanks to both Eric and Gunnar who simultaneously sent in the news of lawyers representing Dr. Seuss's estate who threatened the town of Louisville, Kentucky with a lawsuit if they didn't stop a planned "How the Grinch Stole Christmas"-themed celebration as a part of its Light Up Louisville holiday event. The lawyers pointed out that the characters are copyrighted, and could not be used. Legally, they may be correct, but as Louisville Mayor Jerry Abramson pointed out: "It appears these lawyers' hearts are two sizes too small." Given the very subject matter, and the joy which Dr. Seuss stories bring to kids, you would have thought that the lawyers might think twice on this one. Apparently not. I'm sure that all the Grinch-themed aspects of the celebration probably would have made new Seuss fans out of many kids, but apparently, Dr. Seuss' estate would prefer that not happen.


Reader Comments (rss)

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  1.  
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    Valkor, Nov 25th, 2008 @ 12:53pm

    Already been said...

    You can't beat the Mayor's quote. It's just too perfect.

     

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    Lucretious, Nov 25th, 2008 @ 12:53pm

    That would be the lawyers of "Whoreville".....

     

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    Paul Brinker, Nov 25th, 2008 @ 12:57pm

    The town should do it anyway

    Due to the main plot of the story, the town should do it anyway, when it gets to court the judge would ask the lawyers if they even read the story. Because the Lawyears would become the grench who dident discover the meaning of xmas.

     

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    Anonymous Coward, Nov 25th, 2008 @ 1:05pm

    Re: The town should do it anyway

    Aside from the spelling and grammatical errors, I heartily agree with that sentiment.

     

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    Anonymous Coward, Nov 25th, 2008 @ 1:07pm

    Re: The town should do it anyway

    I think they should rename it "How Dr. Seuss's Estate and Its Lawyers Stole Christmas." Then they can all paint themselves brown, and come as assholes.

     

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    Yakko Warner, Nov 25th, 2008 @ 1:15pm

    Re: Already been said...

    Indeed.

    Looking at the story, the lawyers are probably legally right in this case (you know Disney would go nuclear if they tried to do a "Mickey Mouse Christmas" theme), but this is just going to end up as bad publicity for the Dr. Seuss Estate.

     

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    IT Dude, Nov 25th, 2008 @ 1:16pm

    Stink stunk stank

    They took everything... Even the roast beast

     

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    eleete, Nov 25th, 2008 @ 1:17pm

    But it's perfectly fine to steal domains?

    Isn't this the very same state running around comandeering domain names that involve gambling, clear across state and international borders ? Perhaps it's the mayors mind that is too small. Funny how that sword slices both ways.

     

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    Duane (profile), Nov 25th, 2008 @ 1:17pm

    What were they thinking?

    I know it's not in keeping with the season, but this is definitely a case where the lawyers are in the right, legally, if not morally.

    I just can't imagine Mayor Jerry thinking this was a good idea without getting an approval first. Although with our projected $20 million budget shortfall, maybe we could just leave the lights off this year and save a little money.

     

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    Anonymous Poster, Nov 25th, 2008 @ 1:18pm

    Man, that's just sad. Those lawyers should be ashamed of themselves.

     

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    mike L, Nov 25th, 2008 @ 1:21pm

    What goes goes around comes around

    Not that the good Dr would approve of it, but good on Kentucky, if anyone deserves it, it is them.

     

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    Jason Still, Nov 25th, 2008 @ 1:34pm

    City != State

    As a Louisville resident, I feel compelled to point out that any foolish actions by the state (the gambling domain-name thing) aren't our fault. Louisville isn't even the seat of state government, and as far as I know the local government played no part in Frankfort's silliness with domain names. Don't punish the child for the crimes of the father.

     

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    David, Nov 25th, 2008 @ 1:39pm

    Grinch

    Seems the grinch (or in this cases GRINCHES) really DO steal christmas!!!!

     

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    Lonnie E. Holder, Nov 25th, 2008 @ 1:48pm

    From the whatever-happened-to-free-advertising dept.

    This seems to be like cutting off your nose to spite your face. Theodor Geisel's estate would make a lot of money from Dr. Seuss related sales at the celebration and afterward. They should grant the celebration a license and move on. The only winner here (as usual) is the attorneys.

     

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    Anonymous Coward, Nov 25th, 2008 @ 1:49pm

    Re: But it's perfectly fine to steal domains?

    Go take geography again. The state isn't the same thing as the city. How you managed to make the connection I'm not sure.

     

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    Anonymous Coward, Nov 25th, 2008 @ 2:00pm

    Re:

    If they had any shame in them, they would not be lawyers.

     

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    Anonymous Coward, Nov 25th, 2008 @ 2:05pm

    The cease and desist letter strangely only had 1 line:

    "Give me that! Don't you know you're not suppose to take things that don't belong to you? What's the matter with you, you some kind of wild animal? Huh?"

     

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    Anonymous Coward, Nov 25th, 2008 @ 2:10pm

    Re: But it's perfectly fine to steal domains?

    The Dr. Seuss estate will not lose anything from this deal (except for the potential to make money.

    In the gambling domain issue, the domain owners lost the domain and the potential to make money from it.

    There's a difference.

     

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    Tom Black, Nov 25th, 2008 @ 2:12pm

    Since when is it okay to appropriate intellectual properties for free simply because the stories they're attached to have generous sentiments? Any government officials with an ounce of common sense (and I know there are very few these days) would check with the rights holder before leaping feet first into something like this. The Geisel estate would have most likely worked with them to the mutual benefit of both parties. The elected officials are the ones who are being irresponsible by playing on people's sentiments to cover up their own mistake.

     

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    Another mike, Nov 25th, 2008 @ 2:21pm

    again, not what copyright is for

    Dear Ms. Orr:

    I heard today of the cease-and-desist letter on behalf of the Seuss Estate being sent to the city of Louisville. While I respect the law, this clearly demonstrates that copyright is entirely out of control in its current form, as any reasonable person would determine that promoting The Grinch, through a city-sponsored holiday party, would clearly suit the best interest of the Seuss estate by promoting Geisel's creation. Now, instead of exposing thousands to the story of the Grinch, none of the residents of Louisville get to enjoy it... including the young, impressionable, soon-to-be-consumers. This is not at all what copyright was intended for; we can all see that.

    Cheers,

    Mike

     

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    eleete, Nov 25th, 2008 @ 2:29pm

    Re: Re: But it's perfectly fine to steal domains?

    OK, Geography 101 for morons

    What City is Louisville in ?
    Answer Kentucky

    Still no connection? You fail.

     

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  22.  
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    Paul, Nov 25th, 2008 @ 2:33pm

    So what your saying...

    Is that copyright should be for the good of the people, not some dead guy? Right? Right?

     

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    LostSailor, Nov 25th, 2008 @ 2:35pm

    Copyright Protection Seems a Stretch

    This is a stretch to claim that the city is violating the copyright in "How the Grinch Stole Christmas". Certainly the characters names are would be protected if used in other literature, but the names by themselves can't really be protected by copyright in this way. One could certainly claim fair use in the event a court ruled that the characters are copyrighted.

    They may be trademarked, which would be a different story, but still a possible fair use: here, if the characters are trademarked, use of them could imply an endorsement of the city or an implication that the Seuss estate is involved in the Christmas pageant.

    As for the "images," there might conceivably be a case for not allowing wide use of representations of iconic images from the book, as there is somewhat greater protection for graphic characters over just fictional characters, but even there it's still a stretch.

    I'm a supporter of copyright protection, but this seems to be going beyond what the law covers. There may be other causes of action, (such as unfair competition), but copyright isn't necessarily one of them.

     

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    Oldster, Nov 25th, 2008 @ 2:38pm

    "What City is Louisville in?"

    I think you mean what state is Louisville in.

    So much for the "eleete" geography lesson. Sheesh.

     

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  25.  
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    eleete, Nov 25th, 2008 @ 2:41pm

    Re:

    Correct, sorry I missed that on the post. Point Taken ?
    I also was not trying to insinuate that the mayor was the governor as I believe he was trying to convey.

     

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  26.  
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    Oldster, Nov 25th, 2008 @ 2:46pm

    You may be a "LostSailor" because you surely are not a lawyer.

    And a "How the Grinch Stole Christmas" themed celebration would likely violate both the copyrights and trademarks owned by Dr. Seuss' estate.

    Funny litle quirk of US copyright and trademark laws: if you don't enforce your rights you risk losing them. By not asking permission Louisville forced the estate to defend their rights. So if you want to bust a lawyer's chops, pick on the Louisville city attorney.

     

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  27.  
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    John, Nov 25th, 2008 @ 2:49pm

    Protecting Universal?

    At Universal Studios Florida, there's a fully endorsed and properly licensed show based on the movie version of the story of the Grinch.
    Maybe the Seuss lawyers are protecting their licensing agreement with Universal. After all, if some town in Kentucky can perform a Grinch show without paying licensing fees, why does Universal need to pay?

     

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    Anonymous Coward, Nov 25th, 2008 @ 2:57pm

    So now anyone can use whatever characters we'd like for whatever purpose we'd like? Sweet! How about a Grinch wet T-shirt contest? Is that allowed too? Paint yourself green, ladies, and let us see your whos.

     

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    Michael B, Nov 25th, 2008 @ 3:05pm

    In Honor of Theodor Geisel (Dr. Suess)

    The lawyers, they don't give a damn
    'Bout who they sadden or who they slam.
    It's such a shame that they're so bad
    At Christmas when they should be glad
    That people want to tell the tale
    Of Doctor's Grinch, not Jonah's Whale.
    Their hearts are not of flesh and bone
    But rather made of so much stone
    That they ring cold in wintertime.
    I'm sorry for this awful rhyme!

     

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  30.  
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    Jeff (profile), Nov 25th, 2008 @ 3:32pm

    Re: Re: Re: But it's perfectly fine to steal domains?

    Did not realize that Kentucky was a city?

    Guess I need to go back and retake Geography 11.0

     

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    ConceptJunkie (profile), Nov 25th, 2008 @ 3:45pm

    I find this amazingly ironic...

    ...seeing as how Dr. Seuss' works have been whored out in so many ways that are utter travesties to everything it represented... books, movies, all kinds of media that bear almost no resemblance to the author's original works.

    It's possible, even likely, the lawyers are in the right, yet this would probably represent something much truer to the works of the good Dr. than the horrible atrocities his name has been attached to since he passed on.

    Charles Schulz got it right. Peanuts would end with him. It's sad, but we have 50 years worth of comics, books, TV shows and movies that are wonder examples of the artist's work and won't be ruined by idiotic marketing droids and other greedy hacks.

     

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    Different Mike, Nov 25th, 2008 @ 3:58pm

    Why should they enforce thier copyright?

    I am usually of the opinion that copyright lawyers usually go too far, but the Geisel Esate's attorneys seem to be 100% correct in this situation.

    If the city had decided on a "Little Mermaid" themed celebration with license Disney would have surely stepped in. If they tried to do a "Looney Tunes" themed celebration without license Warner Brothers would undoubtedly call foul. Why shouldn't the Geisel Estate enforce their copyright when someone is using the name and likeness without permission?

     

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    Dear Jerk, Nov 25th, 2008 @ 4:25pm

    Re: But it's perfectly fine to steal domains?

    Mayor = runs a city
    Governor = runs the State

     

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    Dear jerk, Nov 25th, 2008 @ 4:29pm

    Re: Re: Re: But it's perfectly fine to steal domains?

    Seriously....stop trying

     

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    Anonymous Coward, Nov 25th, 2008 @ 4:56pm

    Re: Re: Re: But it's perfectly fine to steal domains?

    LMAO!!! It can't get any better than this comment! Not just fail but EPIC FAIL or would that be ELEETE FAIL? :)

     

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  36.  
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    Anonymous Coward, Nov 25th, 2008 @ 5:03pm

    Re: What goes goes around comes around

    So based on how you associate things we can hold you responsible for whatever your city or state does since it's always passed down.

     

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    Daz, Nov 25th, 2008 @ 5:44pm

    They should call BS on it

    Its called fair use and anyone who says we can't dress up as the grinch is gonna get a kickin'

     

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    Dave, Nov 25th, 2008 @ 5:54pm

    Re: From the whatever-happened-to-free-advertising dept.

    That might have been true if it was a sanctioned event. I'm relatively sure that if the town had bothered to ask, they might have been able to do it for free.

    Since they didn't...

     

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    Dave, Nov 25th, 2008 @ 5:57pm

    Re: They should call BS on it

    It is NOT fair use for a town to do it. If you want to make a copy of a drawing for your own use, that's fair use.

    Don't argue legalities you don't understand.

     

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  40.  
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    ehrichweiss, Nov 25th, 2008 @ 7:08pm

    Re: Re: From the whatever-happened-to-free-advertising dept.

    Regardless of whether the event was sanctioned by the Geisel estate, the Geisel estate WOULD stand to gain money from Seuss-licensed items, exactly as the GP had stated. Now how about taking your cranium from your rectum and having a look around before you post next time.

     

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  41.  
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    Your Gawd and Master, Nov 25th, 2008 @ 7:11pm

    Re: What goes goes around comes around

    Where do YOU live? I'm sure I can find something shitty that your President, governor or 3rd grade teacher has done that I can then use to humiliate you with "justification" the moment you find yourself in an uncomfortable situation.

     

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  42.  
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    ehrichweiss, Nov 25th, 2008 @ 7:15pm

    Re: Why should they enforce thier copyright?

    There's an old saying: It's better to be happy, than "right".

    When you understand that, you'll have matured significantly more so than anyone around you.

     

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    ehrichweiss, Nov 25th, 2008 @ 7:31pm

    Re: Re: They should call BS on it

    Actually, I can take a clipping of one of Geisel's illustrations(whether he did the actual illustration or not), include it in a book AND sell many copies of that book and IT WILL STILL BE FAIR USE. What you described isn't even a real concern in the arena of copyright law much less fair use.

    So maybe you need to stop arguing legalities you don't understand?

     

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    Legal Eagle, Nov 25th, 2008 @ 10:34pm

    No Laughing matter!

    Metro Louisville Mayor Jerry Abramson having been an attorney before becomming the mayor, had to know using a Dr. Seuss themed celebration with persons in Dr. Seuss costumes ect. without first getting a license from the Dr. Seuss Estate was WRONG. He is now playing it off as silly and funny that the attorneys issued a cease and desist letter. There is nothing funny about the theft of intellectual property, whether it be the illegal downloading of copyrighted music or videos off the net, the copying and using of a reporter’s copyrighted story on someone’s web site without payment or permission, or the pilfering and unpaid use of the copyrighted works of the late author of Dr. Seuss by Metro Louisville Mayor Jerry Abramson and the visitors bureau in their Light Up Louisville event. ALL ARE THEFTS OF SOMEONE ELSES PROTECTED CREATIVE WORKS...violations of FEDERAL LAW that can be investigated by the F.B.I., an organization that I assure you makes no room for “oops” or “we did not know”, or “we were not making any money off of what we stole” excuses! The mayor and the visitors bureau were WRONG and it is time they took responsibility for their actions and stop the nasty finger pointing at the attorneys for Dr. Seuss who are just doing their job of protecting their client’s creative works! As a published author of copyrighted works, I detest people who steal the copyrighted works of others.

    Legal Eagle (A Louisville native)

     

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  45.  
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    Oldster, Nov 25th, 2008 @ 10:46pm

    Actually, ehrichweiss, why and how you used the clipping would determine whether fair use applied. Fair use doesn't give you an unfettered right to publish without permision or attribution.

    Meantime, maybe you need to stop arguing legalities you don't understand. Just because you think something is true doesn't mean that it actually is true.

     

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  46.  
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    Kieth, Nov 26th, 2008 @ 12:06am

    Re: No Laughing matter!

    What? No laughing matter?

    I actually tend to really enjoy a good parody. Weird Al makes good parody, as does Mel Brooks (Spaceballs, anyone?)

    Maybe Louisville's Mayor could create parody characters.

    There! I said it. PARODY. First Amendment! Boy, that would be funny.

     

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    Fungo Knubb, Nov 26th, 2008 @ 3:12am

    RE: The town should do it anyway

    I've been around for quite a long time, and I can't remember a Christmas without Dr. Seuss's Grinch stole Christmas story over the decades. It would seem that it has become part of our culture, just as Santa Clause and his reindeer have. Who owns the copyright on Santa? Do we have to get permission from the copyright holders to use a Santa look-alike for whatever the reason? I don't think so. I believe that the Grinch has become a victim of its own success, and been absorbed into our culture, thus loosing most of the IP protections it once had. What does the law say about such things?

     

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  48.  
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    Roadsider, Nov 26th, 2008 @ 5:40am

    Springfield, Massachusetts, the birthplace of Dr. Seuss, has a Bright Nights Celebration every Christmas season in its largest city park, Forest Park. They decorate the roads in the park with lighting displays of various scenes, including characters from Dr. Seuss books. The city pays a princely sum to the company who sets up the displays and presumably to the Seuss estate, but they also make a considerable amount of money from the attraction to help pay for the upkeep of the park. Cars are charged $10 or so to drive through the attraction.

    I really see nothing wrong with the Seuss estate trying to protect its copyrights and trademarks. If it's done properly, everyone can benefit.

     

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  49.  
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    Dave, Nov 26th, 2008 @ 5:42am

    Re: Re: Re: They should call BS on it

    Yes, but if you spend hundreds of thousands to attract people to you home to generate revenue, that's no longer fair use. Fair use is an individuals right (excluding parody and satire) to use small amounts for limited or non-commercial use.

    That's not at all what the town is doing.

     

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  50.  
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    Lucretious, Nov 26th, 2008 @ 7:08am

    Re:

    The town was using the theme in line with how the story was originally presented. They weren't trying to sell a product with it nor alter the IP in a way that would devalue it.

    Technically speaking, yes, you are right but in the end the IP holders and attorneys end up looking like the greedy assholes they apparently are with the IP now involved in a very public negative story. Nobody wins IMO.

     

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  51.  
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    Tony, Nov 26th, 2008 @ 7:59am

    End result?

    In the end, will this really change anything?

    Will there really be any change in Dr. Seuss sales as a result of this?

     

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    The 'Ville, Nov 26th, 2008 @ 8:29am

    Re: But it's perfectly fine to steal domains?

    Not that I'm defending the whole domain stealing mess, (because in my opinion that is a terrible thing and I am frankly surprised that the judge approved it) but the mayor of Louisville likely has not much to do with a case being run by the STATE. The state is run by a governor, not the mayor of Louisville.

     

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    The 'Ville, Nov 26th, 2008 @ 8:45am

    Whether or not the lawyers or the estate are "legally if not morally" in the right, instead of just clamping down and shutting off the entire operation, they could have simply offered to work out a deal of some kind. There is no reason these guys couldn't have just said, "We'd really like to put the stamp of approval on this whole shebang, so let us do that (meanwhile we profit like mad from the free advertising and increased sales) and we'll even help get you setup!"

     

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  54.  
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    LostSailor, Nov 26th, 2008 @ 10:02am

    Re:

    While I'm not a lawyer, I've worked with copyrights and, to a lesser extent, trademarks for years. The linked story specifically mentioned copyright but did not mention trademark at all.

    It's true that you can lose trademark protection if you don't actively "enforce" them, but it is definitely not true that you lose copyright protection absent enforcement. Copyright remains in force even if you never prosecute infringement. You could ignore a hundred infringements and go after the the 101st without penalty.

    Much depends on what the city of Louisville was planning for their "Grinch" celebration, but objecting to their simply using a "Grinch" theme would indeed be a stretch to successfully litigate under copyright law (though, as I indicated, there may be other laws by which the Seuss estate could sue).

    Mike and I have gone back and forth over copyright here, and while we disagree on much, we don't, I think, disagree that frivolous copyright suits tend to harm fair use protection. The Seuss estate has achieved their aim in stopping the city's celebration, but whether they would have a successful copyright case is doubtful, IMHO.

     

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  55.  
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    Crabby (profile), Nov 26th, 2008 @ 12:48pm

    Re: From the whatever-happened-to-free-advertising dept.

    I think you're right. This could be played up to make money for the estate. But then the lawyers wouldn't get their cut.

     

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    EzzyB, Nov 27th, 2008 @ 11:08pm

    Not a town

    Just a quick correction. Louisville is not a town. It is actually right around the 15th largest CITY in the US.

     

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    Windel, Nov 28th, 2008 @ 7:57am

    The small city of Louisville should have contacted the estate LONG before planning to do this... If they would have paid a relatively small amount of money to the estate, it would have been the right thing to do... Dr Suess is dead, but his family lives on, and OWNES the RIGHTS to everything this man created...

    They didn't... They continued to plan, and almost execute this clear violation of copyright laws...

    Then the mayor says that the lawyers hearts are small, but in fact, his brain may be too small...

     

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    Erik Deckers, Nov 29th, 2008 @ 12:29pm

    How the Lawyers Stole Christmas

    I wrote one of my columns, How the Lawyers Stole Christmas, at my own humor blog in Dr. Seuss style. I dont know why Seuss' estate didn't try to work out a licensing deal with Louisville. They could have made some money off the display, rather than making themselves look like heartless morons.

     

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    Darren, Nov 30th, 2008 @ 5:43pm

    Taking Seuss's side here

    I have to agree that it's wrong for the mayor to play on sentiment. Geisel's characters are legally protected and should be. The displays in Springfield are tied to the Seuss National Memorial in that city. http://www.uptake.com/blog/family_vacations/dr-seuss-national-memorial-sculpture-garden-sprin gfield-massachusetts_1414.html

     

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    Tom, Dec 17th, 2008 @ 12:27pm

    Does anyone except me wonder why these two brave legal eagles haven't been identified? Liberals- your opinion is always correct, if it agrees with theirs.

     

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  61.  
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    John Dezeeuw, Aug 28th, 2009 @ 6:51pm

    Lawyers

    Does anyone know how to save a drowninig lawyer or judge?
    No?.............................................Good!

     

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  62.  
    identicon
    Anonymous Coward, Nov 23rd, 2009 @ 12:51pm

    While some people are giving away Christmas songs for free, others are stealing kids' joy.

     

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  63.  
    identicon
    NO Estate profits from copyright/TM infringements, Aug 5th, 2010 @ 6:21am

    Re: Re: Re: From the whatever-happened-to-free-advertising dept.

    sheesh! That *might* be true if it weren't for all the crappy products made from illegal copies of the original product. Check out Etsy.com for copyright infringements up the wazoo. It's infuriating that it's allowed to go on unfettered.

    Do you guys think that the thieves/makers of those items are giving all the proceeds to the respective estates?

    Ha!

    You guys might think differently if it were your items being copied and sold.

    And if you think no one would be profiting: Is somebody DONATING all the work spent on desigining and producing all those signs, brochures, banners, advertising, etc.? Riiiiiiight.

     

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  64.  
    identicon
    NO Estate profits from copyright/TM infringements, Aug 5th, 2010 @ 6:30am

    Re: Re: Re: They should call BS on it

    Absolutely, you can do that legally IF you get permission from the publisher of the book from which you "copied" it.

    Here's info in case you are curious:
    http://www.randomhouse.com/about/permissions.html

    If you do it without permission, you will be sued.

     

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]


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