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Dr. Seuss case examines concepts of parody, mashup and fair use

On Behalf of | May 5, 2020 | blog, Intellectual Property |

The written works of Dr. Seuss and Star Trek television shows and films are well known throughout Georgia. A mashup of the genres has triggered a copyright battle between Dr. Seuss Enterprises and ComicMix, a comic book publisher. DSE won a federal district court ruling that agreed with the legal claim made by DSE that ComicMix violated the copyright of “Oh, the Places You’ll Go!” by Dr. Seuss with the publication of “Oh, the Places You’ll Boldly Go!” by ComicMix. In the view of the legal team for ComicMix, its comic book represented a fair use because it parodied the original work in the context of a Star Trek theme.

On appeal, the lawyer for ComicMix applied this argument before the U.S. Court of Appeals for the 9th Circuit. He said that the mashup of the Dr. Seuss and Star Trek genres acted as a parody of the Dr. Seuss work because it pointed out the narcissism of the Dr. Seuss character by contrasting it to the cooperative ethos of Star Trek stories. As a parody, the comic book became a transformative work that should fall under the purview of fair use. Fair use also relies on how it influences the potential market for the copyrighted work. The lawyer for DSE maintained that the mashup could compete with licensing opportunities for DSE. In response, the lawyer for ComicMix argued that its comic book was substantially different from the DSE story and could not act as a market substitute.

The perceived effect on the market for DSE may determine the final outcome of this appeal. When threats to intellectual property assets arise, an IP owner may ask an attorney how to protect ownership and financial interests. Legal services might include issuing a cease-and-desist letter to an infringing party and litigation to recover damages.