Close this search box.
Reading Time: 2 minutes

Ever wondered why Rudolph, the famed reindeer with the radiant red nose, hasn’t made it big on the silver screen alongside Santa?

Buckle up for a jolly ride through the tangled web of copyrights and trademarks that keep Rudolph locked away from cinematic stardom.


In a world where even reindeer have legal guardians, Rudolph’s character is shielded by copyright armor, and his name boasts the fortress of trademark protection. Want Rudolph in your movie, story, or emblazoned on merchandise? Well, Santa’s got nothing on the paperwork you will need to navigate for permission and the royalties you will have to shell out.


But let’s dash back to where Rudolph’s sleigh journey began—the tale behind the reindeer that is more elusive than catching Santa Claus eating leftovers on Easter Sunday.


In 1939, Robert May, a dedicated worker at Montgomery Ward (an iconic American department store known for its innovative mail-order catalogs) gets handed the gig of creating a festive story booklet. Taking inspiration from his daughter’s love for deer, May pens a yarn about a reindeer sporting a luminous red schnoz. This quirky reindeer, Rudolph, gets the cold shoulder from his peers up at the North Pole. Yet, after a heartwarming jaunt with an elf, he emerges as the hero guiding Santa’s sleigh through a foggy Christmas Eve. Cue the applause for Rudolph!


The booklet became the North Star of success, dazzling the world with over 2 million copies distributed. Initially, May got zilch for his creative genius, but post-World War II, Montgomery Ward gifted him the rights—talk about a Christmas miracle!


Fast forward to 1949, and enter Johnny Marks, who not only married May’s sister but also penned the earworm “Rudolph The Red-Nosed Reindeer.” This toe-tapping tune sparked the stop-motion film tradition we cherish, tuning in every year like it’s the reindeer Olympics on CBC.


Now, in the countdown to Rudolph’s copyright expiration in 2034, brace yourselves for a flurry of movies, stories, and songs featuring this nose-shining luminary. However, don’t forget that trademark rights can renew indefinitely, ensuring that using Rudolph’s name on merchandise remains as tricky as trying to catch Santa sliding down the chimney.


Before May ho-ho-ho-ed his way out in 1976, he left a legacy—the Rudolph Company. This enterprise holds the reins on all things Rudolph, showering May’s kinfolk with the financial fruitcake of success. As May’s granddaughter fondly recalls, his dream was to pen the “Greatest American Novel.” Alas, he didn’t bag that accolade, but he certainly sleighed the competition by creating the most legendary reindeer of all time—ensuring Rudolph remains a cherished part of holiday lore for generations to come.


So, while Rudolph might not be sharing the screen with Santa just yet, his story continues to twinkle and shine, lighting up our festive spirits brighter than Rudolph’s famous red nose on a snowy December night. Cheers to the reindeer that jingled all the way into our hearts!


This content is not intended to provide legal advice or opinion as neither can be given without reference to specific events and situations. © 2021 Nelligan O’Brien Payne LLP.

Have Questions?

Enjoy this article?
Don’t forget to share.

Related Posts

Intellectual Property Law
Reading time: 2 mins
In a courtroom drama that could rival a Warholian masterpiece, the Andy Warhol Foundation and photographer Lynn Goldsmith have finally[...]
Intellectual Property Law
Reading time: 2 mins
On March 1, 2024, the Supreme Court of Canada ruled that an IP should be considered private. Police require judicial[...]
Intellectual Property Law
Reading time: 2 mins
In the colorful circus of professional wrestling, where muscle-bound behemoths clash and melodrama reigns supreme, the saga of intellectual property[...]