Playwright Claims ‘Fair Use’ in Grinch Copyright Case

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By Anandashankar Mazumdar

Cindy Lou Who is a lot more than two in a one-woman play that’s at the center of a copyright battle between its author and Dr. Seuss Enterprises ( Lombardo v. Dr. Seuss Enters., L.P. , S.D.N.Y., No. 16-09974, complaint filed 12/27/16 ).

“Who’s Holiday!” by playwright Matthew Lombardo features a grown-up Cindy Lou Who, a character described as “no more than two” in the classic tale “How the Grinch Stole Christmas” by Dr. Seuss, the pen name of author Theodor Geisel.

In the play, 45-year-old Cindy Lou Who has just gotten out of prison and recounts her troubled life, including a long-term relationship with the reformed Grinch.

Dr. Seuss Enterprises L.P., a La Jolla, Calif.-based organization headed by Geisel’s widow, Audrey Geisel, that produces toys and other products based on characters from Dr. Seuss’s books, sent demand letters asserting that Lombardo’s play infringes its copyright interests.

Lombardo is fighting back in federal court. He asked the U.S. District Court for the Southern District of New York Dec. 27 to declare his play “highly transformative” and non-infringing under the fair use doctrine.

Lombardo is also seeking at least $131,000 in damages for the cancellation of the play’s planned holiday run in New York, which followed the organization’s complaints. The damages figure includes $56,000 in expenses, including salaries, and at least $75,000 in lost ticket sales.

Last month, Dr. Seuss Enterprises sued a comics publisher for creating a pastiche of “Star Trek” and Dr. Seuss content. Dr. Seuss Enters., L.P. v. ComicMix LLC , S.D. Cal., No. 16-0779, complaint filed 11/10/16 .

Dr. Seuss Enterprises did not immediately respond to a request for comment from Bloomberg BNA.

To contact the reporter on this story: Anandashankar Mazumdar in Washington at AMazumdar@bna.com

To contact the editor responsible for this story: Mike Wilczek at mwilczek@bna.com

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