For many people, Christmas is the most wonderful time of the year: decorating the house, wrapping presents and, last but not least, listening to cheesy Christmas songs, some of which are among the highest-earning songs of all time. When Santa Claus comes to town, however, he might bring some gift-wrapped intellectual property lawsuits with him. The European Patent Office, for example, records many patents that mention Christmas in their title. Most of these patents relate to Christmas trees or their decoration. But patents are not the only kind of intellectual property right that could cool your Christmas cheer.
Many Christmas songs such as “Jingle Bells” or “Silent Night” are not (or no longer) protected by copyright law and form part of the public domain. However, the danger of a copyright infringement lawsuit has not yet been abandoned. For example, even Instagramming your Christmas Eve dinner or live-streaming your church service on Persicope might be copyright sensitive. Because Christmas is ultimately about celebrating the birth of Jesus of Nazareth, it’s worth noting that Jesus himself has been mentioned in copyright infringement lawsuits.
“Otherworldly Inspiration” Can Be Attributed to Its Human Recipient
In 1975, the late US psychologist Helen Schucman published a book called A Course in Miracles. She assigned the copyright to her book to the US Foundation for Inner Peace (FIP). Schucman believed that her book was dictated to her in a series of waking dreams by Jesus.
After the New Christian Endeavour Academy, a German registered association, published extracts from Schucman’s book on their website’s homepage, FIP asked for an injunction in the Regional Court of Frankfurt/Main. The New Christian Endeavour Academy defended itself by saying that there was no doubt that Jesus is the author of A Course in Miracles. A person who herself was of the opinion that her words were the result of a divine dictate could not have possibly obtained copyright in those words. By decision of 13 May 2014 (Case 11 U 62/13), the court of appeals, the Higher Regional Court of Frankfurt/Main, however, ruled that even “otherworldly inspiration” could be attributed to its human recipient. The authorship of a work was not determined by the mental state of its creator but by the actual process of creation. Thus, writers own copyright in their works even if they wrote them while mentally disturbed, in a trance or under metaphysical influences.
The case is currently pending before the German Federal Court of Justice under case number I ZR 138/14. It will be interesting to see how the case will be decided.
Happy Holidays from the AllAboutIP Team!
This article was originally published on AllAboutIP – Mayer Brown’s blog on relevant developments in the fields of intellectual property and unfair competition law. For intellectual property-themed videos, Mayer Brown has launched a dedicated channel available here.