Though I openly admit that Halloween is my favorite holiday, Christmas leaves plenty of opportunities to explore copyright and plagiarism issues from a more festive angle.
Over the fifteen-year history of this site, we’ve covered dozens of Christmas-related stories including, just last week, looking at 5 Public Domain Christmas Movies.
However, there’s plenty more in the archives and, this week, we’re going to highlight five copyright-related Christmas stories and, next week, we’ll look at a different collection of plagiarism-related Christmas stories.
So, sit back, relax and let’s enjoy a stroll down copyright memory lane.
The copyright history of It’s a Wonderful Life is easily one of the most interesting copyright stories during any season. Originally seen as a commercial failure, the copyright in the film was allowed to lapse into the public domain.
However, that public domain status meant it received near-constant airplay and became a holiday staple, even if the filmmakers received nothing from it.
But, following the Rear Window Supreme Court decision, Republic Pictures was able to acquire the rights to the original story the film was based upon and the soundtrack for it, essentially bringing the film back under copyright protection. While feelings about this are understandably mixed, it’s an interesting story about how, even in copyright, there are second chances sometimes.
Whether you love or hate Christmas music, there’s no doubt that it is big business. However, this raises a lot of questions, most notably: Who is making all the money from them?
The answer, as with all things related to music licensing, is complicated. However, the songwriters and their publishers take home the lion’s share (and all the revenue when the song is played on radio) and performers, in general, make less.
Still, it’s amazing how many songwriters have made exceptionally good livings off just one or a few longstanding Christmas classics.
All that talk about royalties owed for playing compositions may have you seeking some public domain Christmas music. This article has you covered.
Bear in mind that this article ONLY looks at the composition (the recording would have its status determined by when it was created). However, since there is no public performance right for sound recordings, this opens the use of these songs for a lot of things.
That said, this article is also a great barometer of when it is the holiday season as it usually becomes the most popular article on the site from the middle of November through the new year.
Though this one is technically a cheat since two of the myths are covered elsewhere, it’s still a good look at many of the copyright-related myths that permeate the holiday season.
No, Santa Claus is not copyrighted by Coca Cola and the Elf on the Shelf is not public domain. Also, you’re free to sing and play any Christmas song at a private party.
Though the holidays may be a special time, copyright still applies the same old way and that is something important to remember.
5: The Christmas Parodies
Approximately once every seven years, I feel inspired around the holidays to try my hand at parody. So far, that has happened only twice in the history of the site.
The first was in 2010 when I wrote The Night Before a Copyright Christmas, a parody of A Visit from St Nicholas, which is more commonly known as The Night Before Christmas.
It’s a more generalized parody of the poem dealing mostly with the copyright climate that existed at that time (though much of it remains relevant today).
Seven years later, I wrote How the Seuss Estate Stole Christmas, a parody of Dr. Seuss’ How the Grinch Stole Christmas. This one was much more pointed and dealt with the Seuss estate’s failed attempts to shutter Who’s Holiday, a raunchy parody of the iconic book.
So, if you need something a bit more lighthearted, these posts may be just what you need.
The holidays are an interesting time to be involved in copyright, especially as we watch well-established law collide with equally established traditions.
While it might seem weird for copyright law to play such a major part in a holiday about giving and sharing, there’s also no doubt that Christmas is big business and the basis of many creators’ livelihoods.
However, it’s not just copyright issues. When we look on the ethical side of things as well, we find that plagiarism has also played a key role in the holiday season and that is something we’ll look at in a later post.