It’s official: Anyone in the United States can be the Queen of Christmas, whether it’s in the privacy of their own home-and-hearth or for professional purposes.
The United States Patent and Trademark Office released a declaration Tuesday that it was denying Mariah Carey’s bid to trademark “Queen of Christmas” along with a few associated phrases, after another singer who has used that wording, Elizabeth Chan, filed an opposition to Carey’s move earlier this year. According to the document, the judgment went against Carey because “no answer had been filed” after Chan contested the trademark attempt.
As a result, both Carey and Chan can continue to use the phrase, along with anyone else who wishes to, whether it’s to promote musical endeavors or just knit and sell sweaters — as Chan’s lawyer had raised the specter of anyone who wanted to sell “Queen of Christmas” clothing or crafts on Etsy potentially being shut down by Carey if she succeeded in establishing a trademarked line of products using the slogan.
Says Chan, “Everyone’s very focused on the win, and very focused on Mariah, but I feel it’s really important for people to understand my motivation in this was to really protect and save Christmas for generations after us. I always thought about the future of Christmas music and wanting to protect the genre to allow other artists like me to shepherd in Christmas music without anything in their way. It was very important for me to try to save it in this way not just for generations after me, but for the people that have come before me. There’s no reason why Brenda Lee or Darlene Love or I should get sued or cease-and-desisted for doing what what we’ve loved, right?”
Chan’s lawyer, Louis Tompros, who led the WilmerHale team representing the singer, calls it a case of “trademark bullying” on the Carey team’s part. “Part of the reason that we got involved was that this was a clear David versus Goliath scenario where we have a well-funded, global celebrity trying to get a trademark in dozens and dozens of categories, in a way that really hurts Elizabeth, who has her own much smaller business. And justice prevailed.”
Carey’s reps did not comment when Chan first filed her opposition last summer, and did not immediately respond to requests for comment after the Trademark Office issued its ruling.
Carey had sought sole rights to phrases including “QOC” and “Princess of Christmas” — which Chan notes she has used for her 5-year-old daughter — as well as “Queen of Christmas.” Chan contends that, as the world’s only full-time Christmas music singer of any renown, she has been called “queen” by people at radio almost since she released her first Christmas recordings in 2014. She has subsequently released a new Christmas album every year.
Chan recently released her 12th Christmas album in a row, including the single “Merry Merry,” which now sits at No. 4 on the Mediabase current holiday chart, having peaked so far at No. 3. It’s the 10th charting single she’s had in a career that has had her writing, recording, producing and releasing her music herself, finding a lot of notoriety in the press along the way as well as a presence at AC radio for about two months every year. Although her success hardly matches Carey’s record-breaking stats with the perennial “All I Want for Christmas is You,” she has stood out for her persistence in recording music that has a holiday theme, and only music that has a holiday theme.
It’s not clear why Carey’s lawyers did not respond to Chan’s opposition with the trademark office, given the potential millions of dollars at stake with the variety of merch lines being floated in the initial bid. According to Tompros, Carey was given a deadline to weigh in with a counter-argument, and then the trademark office offered a one-month extension with which to respond, which still went unmet, leading to Chan’s argument against the bid being accepted by default.
Chan and Tompros said they had expected a counter-argument from Carey, which would have led the case to extend into late 2023 or 2024, rather than ending as abruptly as it did this week.
“There’s no amount of money and fame that can buy your way around the facts of the matter,” says Chan, “and I think that that’s what was realized here.”
Chan says she first found out about Carey’s trademark bid during the normal legal process that surrounded her pending release of a spoken-word album that was called “Queen of Christmas” in 2021. “My entertainment attorney at the time found the filing and flagged it to me. Had I not done that record, I might have not have never known and she might have gotten the trademark today.”
She and her attorney are surprised the case wrapped up so quickly. Says Tompros, “It’s theoretically possible that they could have just blown the deadline, but they got notice about a month ago saying, ‘Hey, you’ve missed this deadline. Do you have any reason?’ They didn’t respond to that either. I will tell you, I have never seen another scenario where somebody just goes radio-silent like this on the trademark office and doesn’t respond at all. I think the most likely scenario is that they saw the writing on the wall that they were gonna lose, and didn’t even respond because they have nothing to say.”
Chan came under attack from some Carey fans once her legal opposition to the trademark bid became publicized in August, although she doesn’t want to discuss details of the heated pushback she got from parts of the fandom. “It’s been very overwhelming,” she says. “Bravery is the thing that you have in retrospect, right? The whole process was very daunting because it hit me on so many levels, professionally and personally, as an artist and a mother, and an independent label owner. Like, how important are these things? How far will I fight for them? And I would do anything for Christmas and Christmas music. I have such a respect for the culture and the genre and a respect for how it helps people get through the holidays, so I feel very obligated and responsible to try to protect it, in a way that most people won’t ever understand.
“And I’ve always had that very deep understanding of the beauty of Christmas music and the beauty of letting other people be that person to usher in the season. We are not gonna be here forever, but we should always pass down these traditions and we should always encourage others to do the same.”
She says she never would have attempted to trademark “Queen of Christmas” for herself. “I’ve always paid homage to Brenda Lee,” Chan says, referring to the singer who began having Christmas smashes in the 1950s that still land in the top 10 in December up through the present. “I loved Karen Carpenter — for me, that was the voice of the season, (eventually followed by) Brenda and Darlene and Mariah. In certain towns people are crowned Christmas queens of Christmas pageants, all over the world. Or in my album ‘The Queen of Christmas,’ I talked about how, in my life, the Queen of Christmas was my grandmother.
“And also the Virgin Mary — she’s the queen of Christmas too!” she adds. “I mean, I was not the one who was trying to stop anybody else. I was just the one that stood up and said, ‘Hey, you can’t stop anybody else.’”
Chan’s new album, “The 12 Months of Christmas,” has a couple of songs that have some inspiration in the legal circumstances that have taken a lot of her attention over the past year.
“I wrote one called ‘Giver’ for my friend who helped me find WilmerHale, and it was based on the conversation of me not having enough money for lawyers,” Chan says. “And I wrote Louis (Tompros) a song, which I sing with my daughter, called ‘The Santa Clause.’ He said, ‘Hey, Elizabeth, ever think about writing a Christmas song for or about lawyers?’”
Says Tompros, “I didn’t think she’d take me seriously. I appreciate it and love it. She also jokes that her parents really thought she should go to law school. I told her I’d be more than happy to write a letter to her parents telling them what a great lawyer she would’ve made if she hadn’t had this brilliant music career.”
From Variety US