Presidents’ Day … Or Not?

by Flicker user ableman

On Monday, Feb. 21, many Americans will celebrate the federal holiday known as Presidents’ Day. Kids will be off school (not us, unfortunately), the post office won’t deliver the mail, and images of George Washington and Abraham Lincoln will be used to shill for everything from cars to sweaters.

Except. Did you know that, officially, Presidents’ Day doesn’t exist? The third Monday in February was designated “Washington’s Birthday” by the Uniform Monday Holiday Act (Pub. L. 90-363) in 1968 and that remains its official title to this day. The misnomer “Presidents’ Day” comes from the holiday’s close proximity to both Washington’s (Feb. 22) and Lincoln’s (Feb. 12) birthdays. The bill’s proponent himself tried to rename the holiday Presidents’ Day, but that initiative died at the committee level, with one committee member saying, “Certainly, not all Presidents are held in the same high esteem as the Father of our Country. There are many who are not inclined to pay their respects to certain Presidents. Moreover, it is probable that the members of one political party would not relish honoring a President from the other political party whether he was in office, no matter how outstanding history may find his leadership.” And yet, we all call it Presidents’ Day. You can read more about this act with the National Archives.

You can also check out some of the law library’s books on the presidents. We’ve got books on Washington and other Founding Fathers, as well as multiple titles on individual presidents, like those on Lincoln and the Supreme Court or Lincoln as a lawyer.

Fighting For Superman

image: flickr user b-tal

Warner Bros. recently announced that Zack Snyder (300, Watchmen) is going to direct a new film version of Superman. The casting rumors have begun, and the studio wants to start filming in June 2011, it’s reported. But it’s only been four years since Superman Returns was generally panned. What’s the big rush?

The flurry of activity is due to ongoing litigation between Warner Bros. (which owns DC Comics) and the heirs of Superman creators Joe Shuster and Jerry Siegel. Shuster and Siegel sold the Superman rights in 1938 for $130.  They’ve been trying to get them back ever since. Although the exact parties have changed over the years (with Shuster’s and Siegel’s heirs eventually on one side and various iterations of Warner Bros. and DC on the other), the question of who-owns-what is still not settled.

In 2008, the United States District Court for the Central District of California ruled that Siegel’s heirs are entitled to partial copyright of Superman’s character (542 F.Supp.2d 1098), but left several other issues unsettled.  Shuster’s heirs have also stepped into the fray and after several hiccups, the parties are set to begin discovery. The new Superman film is one way Warner Bros. is trying to minimize economic losses, whatever the outcome of the suit may be.

Superman isn’t the only comic book character to make an appearance in copyright jurisprudence. For example: Snyder’s previous film, Watchmen (based on a graphic novel of the same name), was subject to a fierce lawsuit (630 F.Supp.2d 1140) prior to its release in theatres. And Neil Gaiman and Todd McFarlane went to court (360 F.3d 644) over characters created for the Spawn series. The judge in that case described one Spawn character as “a kind of malevolent Superman figure, although actually rather weak and stupid” and appended the opinion with cover art and other images of the characters in question. These cases themselves now appear in treatises, ALR annotations and law review articles on copyright law.

The University Library has a large collection of comic books and graphic novels available for check out, including Watchmen, works by Neil Gaiman and Superman titles.

Thanksgiving Pardons

Nixon was one of many presidents to receive a Thanksgiving turkey (image: National Archives)

George Washington issued the first presidential proclamation on Thanksgiving when he declared Nov. 26, 1789 to be a day of “national thanksgiving” in which a new country was invited to acknowledge their “opportunity peaceably to establish a form of government for their safety and happiness”.

Since that first proclamation, Americans have made Thanksgiving one of our most celebrated holidays. Presidents even get in the act by granting a chosen turkey a presidential pardon. Most people think that presidents have been pardoning Thanksgiving turkeys since the 1940s. But while there is ample proof of presidents receiving turkeys, it wasn’t until George H.W. Bush pardoned one in 1989 that the tradition was formalized. (In fact, there is some suspicion Truman and his family ate the turkeys they received.) However the tradition got started, it will continue again this year when President Obama pardons a turkey on Wednesday, Nov. 24. The newly-pardoned turkey will then bring the Thanksgiving tradition full circle by moving to Mount Vernon, George Washington’s home.