All I want for Christmas – is not to be sued for copyright infringement

Now that December is here and with Christmas just around the corner, the holiday spirit is slowly starting to creep in all around us. However, this does not mean that work stops for the elves in Santa’s legal workshop. As Christmas decorations are being put up and holiday music is heard in every shop and home all across the globe, you may find a copyright lawsuit in your stocking instead of a lump of coal if you’re (allegedly) on Santa’s naughty list.

Earlier last month, a lawsuit in a US federal district court named Mariah Carey in a case concerning copyright infringement. The plaintiffs, musicians Andy Stone (who performs under the name “Vince Vance”) and Troy Powers, allege that the famous singer Mariah Carey has their country music song “All I want for Christmas is You” as the basis for her own song with the same title. The plaintiffs have claimed that the similarities between the two songs (both lyrical and musical) are more than a mere coincidence. Carey’s song, which has enriched (or plagued, depending on your tastes) the Yuletide season for many years, has an identical title to the plaintiff’s song, and there is no denying that there are some comparisons to be made between the two musical works.

When examining the two songs from a copyright perspective, the plaintiffs claim that both songs refer to “sleigh bells in the snow”, that one needs “just one thing”, that “Santa can’t bring”, that it would make a “wish / dream come true”, and that they both convey the overall message that material gifts are secondary to love. Perhaps equally interestingly, the plaintiffs claim that both songs use the same progressions of chords, including the use of chords arguably most associated with Christmas music.

As a brief background, the plaintiffs’ version of “All I want for Christmas is You” was initially created in 1989 and later on became a hit in 1993. The defendant’s version of “All I want for Christmas is You” has been a major hit since 1994, and is arguably one of the most famous (or infamous) Christmas songs of all time. Both songs have been widely recognized and Carey’s pop rendition in particular has topped the Christmas chart around the world for decades.

One of the plaintiffs had previously filed a similar lawsuit against the defendant in 2022, but the suit was dropped at an early stage. However, it now seems that the plaintiffs have banded together for another shot, claiming that Mariah Carey has unjustly profited off of a song that they say is derivative of their own. Both the previous and the current lawsuit entail USD 20 million in damages should copyright infringement be established. For comparison, it has previously been estimated that Carey’s song has earned well over USD 60 million since its release.

Hate it or love it, Mariah Carey’s “All I want for Christmas is You” is a staple during the Christmas season, and it is safe to say that all of Santa’s legal elves will be interested in seeing if the Queen of Christmas will find herself on the naughty or nice column in terms of copyright infringement.

Are you interested in discussing holiday or non-holiday related questions regarding copyright, trademarks or other intellectual property matters, please do not hesitate to contact me or one of my colleagues.

Niklas Sandell
European Trademark and Design Attorney
+46 73 510 28 80