Mikele Bicolli
Dec 23, 2022

Intellectual Property And Christmas, Who "Owns" Christmas?

For many, Christmas is the most wonderful time of the year. Holidays, family gatherings, as well as many traditions, which sometimes vary from country to country; however, there are also many immediately recognizable items that relate to Christmas everywhere.

What makes the Christmas holidays iconic and builds anticipation are, without a doubt, the Christmas songs and carols. While some of them date back to the 1800s, there are songs  written less than 100 years ago and are protected by copyright. It’s traditional for these songs to be covered by artists around the world during Christmas time, so it is important to check which of these beloved Christmas classics have already entered the public domain. It’s widely known that copyright protection lasts for the life of the author plus an additional 70 years; however, this applies only to works created after Jan., 1, 1978. This doesn't include songs such as, “Santa Claus Is Coming To Town” by Fred Coots and Haven Gillespie, or “A Holly Jolly Christmas” by Johnny Marks, released in 1934 and 1962, respectively. Works published after 1923, but before 1978, are protected for 95 years from the date of publication. This means that by Jan., 1, 2022, all songs published in 1926 or earlier have entered the public domain. “Angels We Have Heard On High”, “Away In A Manger”, “Deck The Halls”, “God Rest Ye Merry Gentlemen”, “Good King Wenceslas”, and many others can be used by businesses without the fear of copyright infringement.

Santa Claus, as the image of a fat jolly man dressed in a red suit, is copyright free, contrary to the marketing myth that it was created by Coca-Cola. They actually started using the image of Santa Claus dressed in red in 1931, but as an image, Santa has been used since the early 1800s. Does this mean that Pepsi at any moment can use the image of Santa printed on their bottles? Yes, but they need to come up with their own illustration and make it as different from the one portrayed by Coca-Cola as they can; otherwise, lawsuits might be filed against them.

What about trademarks, are there any trademarks that protect Christmas? Holiday names can be trademarked, but trying to register just the word Christmas as your trademark is impossible. However, this doesn't mean you cannot include it in a trademarked name. There are actually about 2,000 registered trademarks that contain the word “Christmas”. “Merry Christmas Ya Filthy Animal” from the Home Alone franchise has already been registered since 2019 for goods like paper banners and paper party decorations. “All I Want For Christmas Is You”, “Santa Claus is Comin’ to Town”, and “The Elf on the Shelf” are also registered trademarks.

If you plan on getting a domain name for your website, you should try hard to come up with a good Christmas-related name. To your surprise, Father Christmas Ltd. already owns www.santa-claus.com, which would be one of your first thoughts for a website domain.

Lastly, you probably haven't thought about Christmas-themed patents, but there are actually quite many interesting patents such as US Patent 5,523,741 (a “Santa Claus Detector”), 7,757,435 (Christmas tree watering ornament), and 7,963,343 (Automatic fire extinguishing system for an existing Christmas tree and associated method).

The intellectual property seems to be all over Christmas; can you think of a novelty and be one of the Christmas “owners”?