The most wonderful time of the year is once more upon us, so with cheer and glee, it’s time to explore festive copyrights, before we go into 2023.

This ‘IntellectYULE Property’ we will be looking at some fun and quirky Christmas ideas that have been copyrighted over the years.

Deck the halls with boughs of copyrights

It is a common misconception that the jolly tunes performed at Christmas are all free use for us to enjoy. The reality is that whilst some of our favourite songs have entered the public domain, many are under copyright.

Whilst songs including Deck the Halls, Winter Wonderland, and Jingle Bells are all in the public domain, you will be singing to a different tune for songs such as Frosty the Snowman. Created in 1950 by Steve Nelson and Jack Rollins, the pair saw the success of Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer a year earlier and decided to create their own Christmas song.

Fa la la la. La la la la.

Who’s copyright holiday?

Whilst most of us relish the chance to relax and enjoy some quality Christmas TV shows and films, there have been many cases where copyright holders have not relaxed their stance on breaching copyright on their films.

In 2017, Dr. Seuss Enterprises (the estate of Dr. Seuss) was involved in a legal case against Matthew Lombardo and Who’s Holiday for creating a musical which satirized The Grinch Who Stole Christmas. The musical was later deemed parody as it does not “copy verbatim or quote from the original book.”

It’s a Wonderful Copyright

The 1948 tale of plucky George Bailey overcoming hardships is a Christmas classic. However, this film has fallen in and out of copyright several times over the years. Despite starring Jimmy Stewart, a critically acclaimed actor at the time, the film itself was not a commercial success and when the film reached its protection limit of 28 years (as per US Copyright law at the time) the copyright holder, Republic Pictures didn’t pay the fee to the U.S. Copyright Office to renew its protection for another 28 years.

The film then fell into the public domain in 1974, which propelled its success and cemented its status as a holiday classic. However, it was nearly 20 years later, whereby another Jimmy Stewart film Rear Window sparked the case Stewart v. Abend, which allowed Republic Pictures to regain control of the copyright for It’s a Wonderful Life. Since ownership was restored, the film now cannot be displayed or distributed without permission, and in 1994, Republic Pictures signed an agreement with NBC to grant them ‘exclusive rights’ to show the film.

Believing in a Santa copyright

Whilst we have covered some examples of Christmas copyrights and infringements, arguably the most famous of them all is actually NOT copyrighted at all!

The image of Santa Claus (also known as St Nicholas or Father Christmas) as a red-suited, jolly fellow was famously designed for Coca Cola in 1931 by illustrator Haddon Sundblom and whilst Coca Cola owns the rights to the images produced by Sundblom, the character of Santa himself remains copyright free.

Did you enjoy our IntellectYULE Property article? Read others from previous years:

Quirky Christmas Patents – IntellectYULE Property

Quirky Christmas Trademarks – IntellectYULE Property


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