Court Takes Judicial Notice of Santa Claus’ History

In Coston v. Product Movers, 1990 WL 56516 (E.D.Pa. 1990), a copyright infringement action, the court held that the “idea of Santa Claus” is not protectible, and additionally provides us, via the legal mechanism of “judicial notice”, the following historical background:

Pursuant to Fed.R.Evid. 201, I take judicial notice of the fact that Santa Claus is a legendary Christmas figure. The name Santa Claus is a variation on Sint Nikolaas, a fourth century bishop of Myra, in Lycia, Asia Minor, who is considered as the patron saint of children and who is fabled as having provided three maidens with dowry by throwing three purses of gold into their window.

As for the actual case, plaintiffs claim that they obtained a valid copyright for a graphic work entitled “Christmas Countdown Calendar”, which consists of a drawing of Santa Claus with the numbers 1 through 25 superimposed on Santa’s beard. They allege that defendants copied plaintiff’s work in creating a Santa Claus poster with the dates of December 1 through December 25 superimposed in circles in Santa’s beard.

The court concluded:

[V]iewing the two posters qua illustrations, no jury could reasonably find that the works are sufficiently similar to form the basis for a conclusion that defendants copied plaintiffs’ work in creating their own. As noted above, the fact that the posters have the same purpose or function is immaterial to plaintiffs’ claim. Similarly, plaintiffs cannot claim a copyright in the words “count the days ‘til Christmas.” The two posters share no characteristics save the fact that each generically depicts Santa Claus. The fact that the works depict a common subject is insufficient to give rise to the inference of copying required in a copyright infringement action.

It thus held that, as a matter of law, plaintiff’s work was not substantially similar to defendants’ allegedly infringing work, and therefore entered judgment in favor of defendants and against plaintiffs.

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