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.

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Comments on “How Dr. Seuss's Lawyers Ruined Christmas”

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The 'Ville says:

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.

Duane (profile) says:

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.

Jason Still (profile) says:

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.

Lonnie E. Holder says:

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.

ehrichweiss says:

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.

NO Estate profits from copyright/TM infringements says:

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 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?


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.

Tom Black says:

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.

Lucretious (profile) says:

Re: 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.

Another mike says:

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.



LostSailor says:

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.

Oldster says:

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.

LostSailor says:

Re: 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.

John (profile) says:

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?

Michael B says:

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!

ConceptJunkie (profile) says:

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.

Different Mike says:

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?

ehrichweiss says:

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?

Legal Eagle says:

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)

Oldster says:

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.

Fungo Knubb says:

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?

Roadsider (profile) says:

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.

The 'Ville says:

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!”

Windel says:

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…

Darren (user link) says:

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.

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