Warner Bros. earns lump of coal from local Santas
They expressed feelings of disappointment. Charges of un-Santa-like behavior.
"It's going to hurt the children," Charlie Miehle of Carol Stream said. "They're going to miss out on something that is very, very special."
"It's kind of Scrooge-ish," Judy "Mrs. Claus" Broderick of Beloit, Wis., said.
Call it the case of the "Polarizing Express."
About 30 Santa Clauses and a few Mrs. Clauses sat down at long table at the Orchard Valley Golf Course restaurant in Aurora Saturday morning. They had gathered for an annual plan meeting of Chicago-area residents who've answered the call to take on the roles of Mr. and Mrs. Santa Claus every holiday season.
This year, the regular agenda items -- whether to meet monthly or bimonthly topped the list -- were dwarfed by a legal block preventing organizations from operating "Polar Express" train rides, such as those at Aurora's Blackberry Farms on South Barnes Road.
The legal department at Warner Bros. studios last year issued cease-and-desist orders for all organizations, many of them local park districts, using the trademarked "Polar Express" on popular train rides.
Warner Bros. is demanding that organizations -- at least 67 as listed on a Santa Claus website -- pay for licenses to use the "Polar Express" moniker. Instead, most are dropping the name. The studio and Rail Events Inc. own licensing rights to the "Polar Express" title. The studio released Robert Zemeckis' movie version of Chris Van Allsburg's children's book in 2004.
In a letter to the Arlington Heights Park District -- one of many districts offering a "Polar Express" ride -- Warner Bros. Entertainment Anti-Piracy Director Susan Proctor wrote, "Your use of Warner Bros. intellectual property dilutes the distinctiveness of 'The Polar Express' property by trading upon the goodwill and reputation which the public associates with the property."
Streamwood resident John Sullivan, a practicing Santa for 23 years, offered a special recognition for Warner Bros. during the Saturday meeting: An official "Lump of Coal Award" from the Illinois Santas for ending Chicago area Polar Express events, many of them run by nonprofits.
"We'll send this to Warner Bros. head office," he said. "We're sure they'll find some prominent place for it."
Caroline Curtis of Bartlett, a second-generation Mrs. Santa married to Jeff Curtis, a second-generation Santa, took a pragmatic view of the situation.
"If they want to pull it, that's their choice," she said. "It ruins all the stories on the trains for us. But we can still offer train rides with Santa. We'll just call it 'Santa on a Train' and go on. We'll be fine."
The gathering of Santas and Mrs. Santas also took time to remember two of their peers who recently died: Jim Lellman of Buffalo Grove and Dave Hoopes of Carpentersville.
"If you're a Santa, you're a Santa," said Jeff Curtis. "It's in your heart."
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