Dispute Over Dr. Seuss-Star Trek Mashup Heading for Trial

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By Anandashankar Mazumdar

A dispute over a mashup of Dr. Seuss and Star Trek is headed for trial to decide whether the mashup is protected from a claim of copyright infringement ( Seuss Enters., LP v. Comicmix LLC , 2017 BL 196911, S.D. Cal., Case No.: 16cv2779-JLS (BGS), 6/9/17 ).

The U.S. District Court for the Southern District of California June 8 rejected a motion to dismiss copyright claims brought by Dr. Seuss Enterprises LP against comic book editor Glenn Hauman and scifi screenwriter David Gerrold, who started a Kickstarter campaign to fund their book “Oh, the Places You’ll Boldly Go!”

The case “presents an important question regarding the emerging ‘mash-up’ culture where artists combine two independent works in a new and unique way,” the court said. It needed more evidence, it said, before it could decide how the fair-use factors balance out in the case.

Parodies are generally protected from claims of infringement as fair use under federal copyright law. However, Dr. Seuss Enterprises said that mashups like the one at issue here shouldn’t be protected because they interfere with a copyright owner’s ability to charge licensing fees for authorized mashups.

However, making that the standard for determining whether a mashup was fair use “would almost always preclude a finding of fair use under these circumstances,” according to the court.

“The court court clearly understands what’s at stake here"—not only in this case “but also the broader picture, what this case might mean for other cases,” the mashup maker’s lawyer, Dan Booth of Booth Sweet LLP, Cambridge, Mass., told Bloomberg BNA.

Dr. Seuss Enterprises LP did not immediately respond to a request for comment.

Trademark Claim Dismissed

David Gerrold, who was the screenwriter for “The Trouble With Tribbles"—an iconic episode of the orignal “Star Trek” series, which is now owned by CBS Television—wrote “Oh, the Places You’ll Boldly Go!” as a pastiche of elements from the Star Trek franchise and Dr. Seuss’ classic children’s book “Oh, the Places You’ll Go!”

He took the mashup to Glenn Hauman’s ComicMix LLC and launched a Kickstarter campaign to fund its publication. Dr. Seuss Enterprises LP, the company controlled by the estate of children’s author Theodor Seuss Geisel, sued, alleging copyright and trademark infringement.

The court dismissed the trademark infringement claim but decided the copyright claim couldn’t be resolved because there wasn’t enough evidence to decide what effect the pastiche would have on any market for Dr. Seuss Enterprises to license authorized mashups.

On the other fair-use considerations, the court said that, although this was not a parody, it was “highly transformative,” and the pastiche didn’t use any more of the Dr. Seuss book than was necessary.

Booth Sweet LLP and D’Egidio Licari Townshend APC represented ComicMix LLC, Hauman and Gerrold. DLA Piper LLP represented Dr. Seuss Enterprises.

To contact the reporter on this story: Anandashankar Mazumdar in Washington at AMazumdar@bna.com

To contact the editor responsible for this story: Mike Wilczek at mwilczek@bna.com

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