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  • InsideTrack
  • October 20, 2021

    Legal Research: 'Is My Costume Legal?' Halloween Resources for Lawyers

    It's October – so now's the time to get in the mood to celebrate fall and Halloween. But where can you find tips on whether your costume violates copyright, or how to keep your party legal?

    Beth Bland

    scary pumpkin

    “Each year, the Great Pumpkin rises out of the pumpkin patch that he thinks is the most sincere. He's gotta pick this one. He's got to. I don't see how a pumpkin patch can be more sincere than this one.”[1]

    Oct. 20, 2021 – Halloween is a fun fall tradition, but what do we know about the laws behind it and doing it safely? Where can you find information on copyright and costumes, whether or not you need to disclose the ghost during a real estate transaction?

    Halloween and the Law: Your Questions Answered

    The article may be from 2012, but the topics are very valid. Carli Spina writes in the Harvard Law School Library Blog article, “Halloween and the Law, a Round Up of Links,” where to find such discussions as laws relating to the paranormal in Massachusetts, and whether or not sellers are required to disclose the presence of ghosts in England.

    Beth Bland is a library associate at the Milwaukee County Law Library. She is a member of the Law Librarians Association of Wisconsin (LLAW). LLAW's Public Relations Committee coordinates regular contributions by its members to InsideTrack.

    “In honor of Halloween, many lawyers, librarians and bloggers have been considering the legal implications of Halloween-related topics,” Spina writes. She links to discussions on Ghostbusters and False Imprisonment, Case Law from the Crypt, and a legal bibliography of the Salem Witch Trials.

    How to Keep Your Halloween Party Legal

    Findlaw’s Halloween 101 site features their “best posts about Halloween laws and other related legal information.” Posts include Are Nunchucks Legal, Can I Refuse a Sobriety Test, and Top 3 Halloween Lawsuits of All Time. “Remember, a police-free holiday is a happier holiday for all involved.”

    Tips include keeping the noise level reasonable (such as moving the party inside after a certain time), avoiding serving alcohol to minors (whether that’s you or a guest at your party), and social host liability (e.g., if one of your guests injures someone else).

    Real Estate Sales: ‘Do We Have to Tell Them the House is Haunted?’

    This 2018 article from JSTOR Daily talks about stigmatized properties, where “there has been a shift in the U.S. from caveat emptor, or ‘buyer beware,’ to the principle that problems with a house should be disclosed to interested buyers. Often this takes the form of detailed forms for property condition disclosure. In other cases, realtors are simply obligated to answer any direct questions about a home’s flaws.”

    Note that the property’s notoriety can help or hurt its sale, with some potential buyers wanting to build on its historical significance while others take a different tack. How the neighbors deal with curiosity seekers may also play into the deal.

    Stambovsky v. Ackley, or the ‘Ghostbusters Ruling’

    Stambovsky v. Ackley[2], a case that came before the New York Supreme Court Appellate Division in 1991, is called the “Ghostbusters ruling.” The case involved a discussion of a whether the purchaser of a property in Nyak, New York, was informed that the house was “haunted.” In discussion of the case, the court makes a number of references to Shakespeare and the Ghostbusters movie, and offers a few themed phrases, as seen in the following paragraph:

    “While I agree with Supreme Court that the real estate broker, as agent for the seller, is under no duty to disclose to a potential buyer the phantasmal reputation of the premises and that, in his pursuit of a legal remedy for fraudulent misrepresentation against the seller, plaintiff hasn't a ghost of a chance, I am nevertheless moved by the spirit of equity to allow the buyer to seek rescission of the contract of sale and recovery of his down payment.”

    Tips on Halloween Safety

    Before heading out for trick or treating, the Wisconsin Department of Health Services website offers information about costume safety, pedestrian safety, keeping safe around the house, what to look for to be sure your treats are safe to eat, and tips for motorists.

    Is My Costume Legal?

    Apart from discussions on intellectual property considerations and copyright law regarding costumes, there are also considerations as to whether your costume can legally be worn in your state. Yes, there are places where it is illegal to costume as a nun, priest, or even a clown. There is even a city that doesn’t allow celebrating Halloween on a Sunday – which applies this year.

    Find out more in this blog on Halloween Laws.

    Happy Halloween!

    The author wishes to thank her MCLL colleagues for their invaluable assistance in researching this article.


    [1] Linus Van Pelt in the 1966 movie, It’s the Great Pumpkin, Charlie Brown.

    [2] Stambovsky v. Ackley, 572 N.Y.S. 2d 672, 169 A.D. 2d 254 (NY App Div 1991).

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