How the Grinch Stole Christmas Copyright Fair Use – Cindy-Lou Who

Who’s Holiday! is a one-woman play written by Matthew Lombardo, which was running Off-Broadway.  It was billed as “the show Dr. Seuss doesn’t want you to see.”  The play is about a down and out 45-year-old Condy-Lou Who, who drinks and smokes “Who-hash, and is in recovery from dealing with her relationship with the Grinch, who she had killed, forcing her to spend time in prison.

The copyright owners of How the Grinch Stole Christmas!, Dr. Seuss Enterprises L.P., sent out a number of cease and desist letters to Mr. Lombardo claiming that his play violated the copyrights of Dr. Seuss Enterprises L.P.  Lomabardo sued in the Southern District of New York for a Declaratory Judgment that his play did not infringe their copyrights.  Dr. Seuss Enterprises L.P. counterclaimed claiming copyright infringement, trademark dilution, and unfair competition.

The judge in the case, Alvin Hellerstein, dismissed Dr. Seuss Enterprises L.P.’s infringement claims on the basis of Fair Use.  The judge claimed that it was fair use as Lombardo was making a parody of How the Grinch Stole Christmas!  The judge claimed that Who’s Holiday! changed the “utopic” and “cheery” tone of How the Grinch Stole Christmas! to something quite different, given the recovering demeanor of Cindy-Lou Who.

According to the judge “The play’s coarseness and vulgarity lampoons ‘Grinch’ by highlighting the ridiculousness of the utopian society depicted in the original work: society is not good and sweet, but course, vulgar and disappointing.”  Further, “The play would not make sense without evoking the style and message of ‘Grinch’, for which there would be no object of the parody.”  According to the judge, “Whether the play’s parody of ‘Grinch’ is effective, or in good taste, is irrelevant.”

According to the judge, the public interest in this free expression outweighs any interest in preventing consumer confusion.  Thus, the work is a fair use.

Dr. Seuss Enterprises L.P. has filed an appeal.

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