It’s a song known around the world, one all of us can sing. A tune that instills joy about old St. Nick.
But now the family whose grandfather was part of the duo who composed “Santa Claus Is Comin’ to Town” says a Grinch is taking presents from Santa’s sleigh that should be theirs.
“He was a kid at heart and thinking, ‘You better behave, you are not going to get this and that,’” Patricia Bergdahl said of her grandfather, J. Fred Coots, who was one of two composers who wrote the famous tune. He copyrighted it in 1934.
Her family says music publisher EMI is not behaving now by refusing to cede control of the Yuletide classic.
“That was kind of hurtful. This was part of our family and I thought they would understand that,” Bergdahl said.
Her Miami attorney, David Milian, said the family twice tried to get the song back after it gave EMI the go-ahead to control its use for a time, but those efforts to regain control have failed.
“That’s why we filed the lawsuit” in federal court recently, Milian said. “We feel we are fully entitled to take the rights back.”
Bergdahl lives in Connecticut, but two of the family members who have lodged the lawsuit live in Florida – Coots’ daughter Gloria Coots Baldwin, and his granddaughter Christine Palmitessa.
The family estimates the rights generate about $1 million a year, and they say they take in a quarter of that.
“U.S. copyright law provides authors and their heirs with the one-time right to terminate a grant of U.S. copyright. J. Fred Coots and his family exercised that right in 1981, and were then paid a significant amount, and continue to be paid significant amounts,” Dylan Jones of EMI Music said in a statement. “The heirs have no right to terminate a second time. Their claims are baseless and EMI fully expects that they will be dismissed.”
EMI Feist Catalog Inc. is the corporation named in the lawsuit, filed in U.S. District Court in the Southern District of Florida.
But Bergdahl says the song is part of who her family is, and that her grandfather, who died at age 88 in 1985, used to play it on the piano.
“A lot of it is our heritage,” she said.