Grinch parody play gets go ahead from court in copyright case

Grinch parodyDr Seuss Company, the business which owns the rights to the book “How the Grinch Stole Christmas”, has failed in its bid to prevent a play deemed as a “transformative” parody from going ahead. Matthew Lombardo is the creator of “Who’s Holiday”, a play which makes use of the characters, plot, and setting of the Dr Seuss book.

Lombardo had intended to launch the play last year but, in July 2016, he received numerous cease-and-desist letters requesting that he refrained from any conduct that infringed Dr Seuss’s IP, according to the judgment. In December 2016, Lombardo sought an order declaring that the play was fair use and therefore didn’t infringe copyright.

In retaliation, Dr Suess filed a copyright infringement lawsuit against Lombardo at the US District Court for the Southern District of New York.

District Judge Alvin Hellerstein handed down his opinion on Friday, September 15, ruling in favour of Lombardo, and finding that the “play does much more than just insert the characters from ‘Grinch’ into a dark, updated setting”. He added that by parodying those characters and setting, the play "adds something new".

In addition to seeking a declaration that the play constitutes fair use, Lombardo also filed several tort claims seeking recovery of funds lost as a result of the cancelled production. These claims were dismissed in April 2017.

Dr Seuss filed a counterclaim against Lombardo in May this year, claiming that the play “takes substantially from the original and merely works a perverted twist on the characters of the ‘Grinch’.”

The counterclaim added that there was “no change to the original story of these characters, their names or the themes of ‘How the Grinch Stole Christmas’.”

Hellerstein rejected Dr Seuss’s in his decision on Friday, stating that the use of the characters in “outlandish, profanity-laden, adult-themed scenarios” lampoons the book, by making the characters and Dr Seuss's rhyming innocence “all appear ridiculous.”


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