Mar 1, 2014

Dickens’ ‘A Christmas Carol’—Goblins, Ghosts and Lawyers

Thanksgiving celebrations at my house usually conclude by watching one of the more than three dozen film adaptations of Dickens’ “A Christmas Carol” (we’re not football fans). I find the variations in scripts and character portrayals to be fascinating. My personal favorite is the 1984 version starring George C. Scott as Scrooge.

This year, what struck me when viewing “A Christmas Carol” was the FBI anti-piracy warning at the beginning of the film. The FBI warning has been attached to every DVD I’ve ever viewed, but this year, in this instance, I found the warning ironic. You see, Charles Dickens’ legal battle to gain copyright protection for “A Christmas Carol” brought literary piracy to the attention of courts of law on two continents. In early Victorian England, literary piracy was so common (pirated copies often contained altered book titles, character names and minor plot points) that lawyers generally considered copyrights to be unenforceable.

“A Christmas Carol” was first published on Dec. 19, 1843. The work had been created in just six weeks. In his subsequent reading tours, Dickens said that as he wrote he would weep and laugh out loud, and often took long walks through London—sometimes 15 to 20 miles—“when all sober folks had gone to bed.” When the book was finally complete, he “broke out like a madman.” Read More...

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