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On Tuesday, that final frontier known as intellectual property was charted when, after five long years in court, a legally adventurous dispute over a Star Trek-Dr. Seuss mashup concluded in a settlement. As a result of a deal, the crowdfunded “Oh, the Places You’ll Boldly Go!” will be going away.
Back in 2016, Dr. Seuss Enterprises sued ComicMix over the book project. The heirs of Theodor S. Geisel claimed their intellectual property — Oh, The Places You’ll Go!, Horton Hears a Who, How the Grinch Stole Christmas!, The Lorax and The Sneetches and Other Stories — was being infringed.
ComicMix appeared to have the upper hand when the district court judge first gave the defendant an edge over trademark claims and then over copyright claims, too. The mashup, in the eye of the judge, was highly transformative and unlikely to usurp its predecessor’s position in the children’s book market with a work that included some Captain Kirk-ish sexual innuendo.
These decisions certainly caught the attention of Hollywood’s legal community, wondering if judges were about to swerve on the fair use test.
Then last December, the 9th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals reversed.
“If he were alive today,” wrote the appellate judge, “Dr. Seuss might … say that ‘mash-ups can happen to you.’ … The creators thought their Star Trek primer would be ‘pretty well protected by parody,’ but acknowledged that ‘people in black robes’ may disagree. Indeed, we do.”
“Although ComicMix’s work need not boldly go where no one has gone before, its repackaging, copying, and lack of critique of Seuss, coupled with its commercial use of Go!, do not result in a transformative use,” continued the appellate opinion, adding that ComicMix may have usurped Dr. Seuss’ right to the “derivative works market.”
Still, it wasn’t over, and had the parties wished, this five-year journey could have been a continuing mission.
That’s because after the appeals court remanded the case, the district court judge denied summary judgment on the issue of whether Seuss had shown copyright infringement.
ComicMix still had some hope, even if it was a faint one.
Instead, according to a joint motion filed by the parties today, ComicMix has agreed to a permanent injunction on further distribution of “Oh, the Places You’ll Boldly Go!” while Dr. Seuss Enterprises is abandoning its pursuit of damages.
Weapons set to stun, it’s over.
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