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'Night Before Christmas' Trial: 'Twas the Verdict Surprising?

By Jenny Tsay, Esq. on December 20, 2013 10:11 AM

It wouldn't be the holidays without hearing "'Twas the Night Before Christmas." But some folks in Troy, New York, took it a step further by holding a mock trial to determine who the authored the famous poem.

The contested authors are Clement Moore and Henry Livingston.

So who gets your vote?

All Rhymes Expire With Time

What's not disputed is that the famous line "'Twas the night before Christmas" comes from the poem "A Visit From St. Nicholas." The poem was first published anonymously in the Troy Sentinel Newspaper on December 23, 1823, Albany's WNYT-TV reports.

What is disputed is whether Clement Moore or Henry Livingston was the author.

To resolve the dispute, take a look at copyright law. Since "A Visit From St. Nicholas" is an original work, it's copyright-protected. The duration of the copyright protection depends on when the work was first published and who owns the work.

The poem was submitted anonymously, so the copyright would have endured for 95 years from the year it was first published, or 120 years from the year it was created, whichever expires first.

Since "'Twas the Night Before Christmas" was published 190 years ago, its copyright protection has expired. Once a copyright expires, the work becomes part of the public domain where it's available for free and for anyone to use without the permission of the author.

In the Public Domain This Poem Shall Remain

So what was the verdict of the "'Twas the Night Before Christmas" mock trial? Like many controversial cases, it resulted in a hung jury.

Regardless, since the poem is now in the public domain, the question of who wrote it isn't really important from a legal stance. Of course, friends and relatives of the rightful author would probably appreciate the recognition, but they wouldn't have any legal rights to the work.

Even though the true author's identity is still disputed, his legacy lives on. For the community of Troy, the "Night Before Christmas" trial 'twas certainly entertaining, just like the famous poem.

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