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Karl Zobell takes on Louisville’s ‘Whoville’

La Jolla attorney Karl Zobell says he really doesn’t have a heart “two sizes too small.”

That’s the accusation the mayor of Louisville, Ky., leveled at him after the attorney’s office issued a cease-and-desist letter to the city for wanting a “Whoville” Christmas town hall.

Pointing out he’s not Santa Claus - nor the Grinch - Zobell of DLA Piper, which represents Dr. Seuss Enterprises and is charged with protecting the late Ted Geisel’s works, said copyrighted materials, including characters and even mythical places like Whoville, are protected by law, even after their creator is deceased.

Louisville recently had to shelve plans to dress up the city as a Dr. Seuss village filled with Geisel’s characters after Zobell’s letter warned that doing so would constitute a copyright infringement.

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Zobell said his mission and that of attorneys like him, is not to stamp out all references to copyrighted materials, just the illegal ones.

“Permission was granted to the Old Globe Theater to put on ‘How The Grinch Stole Christmas’ for a month every holiday season without any charge, simply as a gift to the people of San Diego,” he said.

Enforcing copyright infringement is a mainstay in the entertainment industry, added Zobell, noting that Disney Enterprises employs a couple hundred attorneys who spend their time ensuring nobody other than Disney profits from use of their extensive list of copyrighted characters.

Zobell said copyright infringement attorneys routinely search for transgressors. “They look on the Web all the time,” he said, “finding people in communities putting on plays and charging admission, or selling pictures, or looking on eBay because people are selling things purporting to being by Dr. Seuss, and they’re not.

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“These characters didn’t just descend from heaven. They were created by someone who protected them during their lifetime and others do it now.”

Zobell said Louisville’s city attorney got the message.

“They immediately signed a consent to cease and desist,” he said. “There was no argument about it.”