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Warner Brothers officials say ‘That’s all, folks’ to ‘Polar Express’ scofflaws

  • Written by Kelly White

  For years, communities in the south suburbs have been using “Polar Express” to mark a train ride to visit Santa Claus.

  But 2013 may mark the last year the coined name of the Polar Express can be used.
  Warner Bros. is having some issues with towns using that name.
  The Polar Express events, based on the Christmas book by Chris Van Allsburg, may be changing their name in the coming winter seasons, according to Mike Leonard, Director of Parks and Recreation for the City of Palos Heights.
  “Each agency that holds such an event (Polar Express event) received an email from the Warner Bros Anti-Piracy Department back in October concerning the name of the ‘Polar Express,’ ” Leonard said.
  Warner Bros. is the owner of copyright, distribution and certain other intellectual property rights in and to the motion picture “The Polar Express” and related elements, and is the exclusive licensee of the underlying book property in relation to themed events based on it.
  Because of these rights, no one is authorized to utilize Warner Bros.’ Intellectual Property without their express written permission.
  Susan K. Proctor, Director of Anti-Piracy sent letters on behalf of Warner Bros. saying: “It has come to our attention that the several park districts are offering a ‘Polar Express’ themed train ride excursion using the title ‘Polar Express,’ and/or recitations of the book and/or other elements thereof.
  “It is our belief that your train ride event will erroneously lead consumers to believe that these park districts are licensed by, sponsored by or authorized by, Warner Bros., when in fact that is not the case. In addition, your use of Warner Bros.’ Intellectual Property dilutes the distinctiveness of The Polar Express Property by trading upon the goodwill and reputation which the public associates with the Property. Warner Bros. considers such conduct to be a serious violation of its rights and to be damaging to its business and reputation.’’
  The Polar Express Train is advertised that it brings the classic children’s story to life with a real train ride that departs from the Palos Heights Metra Station, 11451 South Hwy. The trip continues on to the North Pole (otherwise known as Union Station in Chicago) to pick up Jolly Old St. Nick, who takes the train ride back home as a passenger.
  Riding along the train in pajamas, families are able to enjoy hot chocolate and cookies while singing Christmas carols and taking turns telling Santa what they want most for Christmas. There are also readings from the “Polar Express” book. And, just like the book, Santa gives each child the gift of a bell from Santa’s sleigh.
  Communities participating in the holiday train ride experience were given the option by Warner Bros. to license the rights to the Polar Express to keep the name, for future events, or to change the name entirely.
  “The event is expected to continue on in the future, but under a different name, because the company that owns the rights to the name has forbidden communities that sponsor this event from using it,” Alderman Martin Kleefisch (1st Ward) stated on behalf of the Palos Hills City Council.
  In November, ABC7 News did a story on how Clarendon Hills Park District changed the name to “Santa Train.” They quoted a man who plays Santa on the train, John Sullivan, as saying that the ride won’t be the same without the “Polar Express” name.
  “This is Scrooge in action not letting the kids have the ‘Polar Express’ trip,” he said.
  Changes to the name of the event have not yet been discussed by Palos Hills. While past Polar Express events have been very successful with the limited space filling up quickly, cities plan on carrying on the tradition. Mary Jo Vincent, Commissioner at Palos Hills Resource and Recreation Department, has confirmed the event will still take place next Christmas season.