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Thomas and Ruth Roy: “we own the copyright on saying ‘humbug’ ”

December 21, 2011

We’ve had some blog posts recently on Charles Dickens’s amazing book Christmas Carol.  the familiarity of television and stage adaptations of this tale take away from Dickens original accomplishment.  But the character of Ebenezer Scrooge remains funny and original and stark, even as he has achieved iconic cultural status.

In a derivative attempt to exploit Dickens character, Thomas and Ruth Roy designated December 21st as “National Humbug Day,” and even got a write-up in Time on it:

Their instructions say you’re allowed 12 free humbugs on December 21st. Today’s the day to curse all things Christmas – overpriced toys, endless lines at the post office, and, of course, the havoc-wreaking snow across much of the country.

However, the Roy’s also claim to own copyright on saying humbug:

Dec 21 Humbug Day — Allows everyone preparing for Christmas to vent their frustrations.  Twelve humbugs allowed.

Please note! All holidays created by Thomas & Ruth Roy, under the name of Wellcat Holidays & Herbs, are, indeed, copyrighted. If you wish to make use of them in any fashion, for profit, we respectfully request that you contact us for appropriate contract arrangements. If, on the other hand, you wish to use them in some non-profit fashion, we still would request you contact us, to ensure permission. Please do not violate United States copyright laws!

I’m sorry for printing that in boldface, but I was just literally copying the Roy’s text – where they seem to assert that you must receive permission from them to say “humbug.”  (Apparently, the Roy’s have never heard of section 107 of the Copyright Code, the “fair use” provisions.)  Moreover, one would think that since Christmas Carol has been in the public domain for decades, they would hesitate before claiming copyright on the word and its use around Christmas.

The only guess I can give to their bizarre behavior is that they are feeling some guilt, because at some point in their lives they once recorded a football game (or even talked a game with their friends) without the express written consent of the National Football League.

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