Comicmix Wins Against Dr. Seuss Estate On Trademark Infringement Claim, Copyright Claim In Serious Jeopardy

from the beam-me-mashup dept

Last year, Mike wrote about an interesting case between a small group of enterprising comic artists and Dr. Seuss Enterprises. Comicmix artists had created a parody mashup of Dr. Suess’ Oh The Places You’ll Go and the Star Trek universe to create Oh The Places You’ll Boldly Go, a rather sweet take on both franchises. The creators of this new work setup a crowdfunding campaign, which the Dr. Seuss estate halted with takedown notices. The case ended up in court, with the Seuss estate claiming that the new work infringed both its copyright and trademark rights. The creators, along with Ken “Popehat” White, claimed all of this was well within the boundaries of Fair Use.

Well, the judge for the case has now ruled on the trademark matter, and it’s a big win for Comicmix. Additionally, while the copyright claim survives for now, the judge makes it clear that things aren’t looking great for that claim either.

Now, the United States District Court for the Southern District of California court has ruled on the trademark question and found that there is no valid trademark claim thanks to “nominative fair use,” and also indicated that it would be favorably disposed to fair use defenses on the copyright question.

The estate has two weeks to prove copyright damages and to amend its trademark claims.

It’s difficult to see how the Seuss Estate is possibly going to go about demonstrating copyright damages. Given the judge’s review of the material and her analysis thus far on the copyright question, the copyright claim has a hell of a hill to climb. The Seuss estate argued that adjudicating the matter of Fair Use on the copyright claim at the motion to dismiss stage was inappropriate because of all the facts required to make that assessment. The judge didn’t buy that, largely because the singular claim of harm made by the estate was the claim that it lost out on the opportunity to license the work at all.

As a threshold matter, Plaintiff argues that “while possible in rare instances to decide fair use at the pleading stage, it is inappropriate here, where significant material facts are necessary to make a determination of fair use.” (Opp’n 9.) However, the only genuine fact Plaintiff points to is that “the issue of whether the Defendants’ use . . . will appreciably harm the value of [Plaintiff’s] Works or . . . market simply cannot be made without discovery and further development of the record on this issue.” (Id. at 15–16.) And Defendants point out that Plaintiff’s sole allegation of market harm is that Defendants “usurped DSE’s licensing opportunities.” (Reply 4 (citing Compl. ¶ 32).) Thus, as long as the Court takes Plaintiff’s allegation of market harm as true, Defendants are otherwise correct that “[t]he complaint, and documents sufficiently referenced therein or otherwise subject to judicial notice, are sufficient to enable the Court to evaluate the issue of fair use.” (MTD 6.) In particular, the Complaint itself raises the issue of fair use, (Compl. ¶ 35), and the contents of the two primary books and other relevant works are before the Court and not in reasonable dispute, (RJN Exs. 5, 6).1 Accordingly, the Court concludes that fair use analysis is appropriate on this Motion to Dismiss and addresses each factor in turn.

As a bonus, the judge also acknowledges that mashup art is an emerging medium and states that bending to the claim by the Seuss estate would effectively kill off an entire form of art.

This case presents an important question regarding the emerging “mash-up” culture where artists combine two independent works in a new and unique way. See, e.g., Art Term, Postmodernism, Tate, http://www.tate.org.uk/art/art-terms/p/postmodernism (last visited Apr. 28, 2017) (“Often mixing different artistic and popular styles and media, postmodernist art can also consciously and self-consciously borrow from or ironically comment on a range of styles from the past.”). Applying the fair use factors in the manner Plaintiff outlines would almost always preclude a finding of fair use under these circumstances. However, if fair use was not viable in a case such as this, an entire body of highly creative work would be effectively foreclosed.

In other words, shuttering an entire art form is not the purpose of copyright law at all, hence this sort of Fair Use defense. It’s as eloquent a nod to why creativity ought not be stifled in favor of protectionism as I’ve seen in a court document and should be required reading for any judge ruling on matters of Fair Use.

And so we wait for two weeks to see what, if any, documented claim of harm the Seuss Estate can work up for its copyright claim. I expect we will all be underwhelmed.

Filed Under: , , , , ,
Companies: comicmix

Rate this comment as insightful
Rate this comment as funny
You have rated this comment as insightful
You have rated this comment as funny
Flag this comment as abusive/trolling/spam
You have flagged this comment
The first word has already been claimed
The last word has already been claimed
Insightful Lightbulb icon Funny Laughing icon Abusive/trolling/spam Flag icon Insightful badge Lightbulb icon Funny badge Laughing icon Comments icon

Comments on “Comicmix Wins Against Dr. Seuss Estate On Trademark Infringement Claim, Copyright Claim In Serious Jeopardy”

Subscribe: RSS Leave a comment
12 Comments
Vidiotsays:

Re: Market Harm? No, Benefit...just not ALL OF IT!

Hold on, now… fair is fair! The Seuss Estate probably stayed up late nights and weekends thinking up all those witty rhymes, and based on the copyright dates, even the as-yet-unborn beneficiaries of the Estate must have worked their prenatal fingers to the bone drawing all those whimsical characters. They richly deserve the spoils of the good Doctor’s mighty labors.

(I’d insert a Seussian parody here, but everything I come up with seems to rhyme with “Nantucket”…)

Anonymoussays:

Re: Re: Market Harm? No, Benefit...just not ALL OF IT!

I think once the person who created the work DIES, any copyright of that work dies along with him or her and it then goes into the Public Domain. In no way should others be allowed to now make money off of it for pretty much forever it seems these days. Very little it seems now goes into the Public Domain.

Add Your Comment

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

Have a Techdirt Account? Sign in now. Want one? Register here

Comment Options:

Make this the or (get credits or sign in to see balance) what's this?

What's this?

Techdirt community members with Techdirt Credits can spotlight a comment as either the "First Word" or "Last Word" on a particular comment thread. Credits can be purchased at the Techdirt Insider Shop »

Follow Techdirt

Techdirt Daily Newsletter

Techdirt Insider Discord
The latest chatter on the Techdirt Insider Discord channel...
Loading...
Older Stuff
13:40 It's Great That Winnie The Pooh Is In The Public Domain; But He Should Have Been Free In 1982 (Or Earlier) (35)
12:06 Norton 360 Now Comes With Crypto Mining Capabilities And Sketchy Removal Process (28)
10:45 Chinese Government Dragnet Now Folding In American Social Media Platforms To Silence Dissent (14)
10:40 Daily Deal: The 2022 Ultimate Cybersecurity Analyst Preparation Bundle (0)
09:29 A Fight Between Facebook And The British Medical Journal Highlights The Difficulty Of Moderating 'Medical Misinformation' (9)
06:29 Court Ruling Paves The Way For Better, More Reliable Wi-Fi (4)
20:12 Eighth Circuit (Again) Says There's Nothing Wrong With Detaining Innocent Minors At Gunpoint (15)
15:48 China's Regulatory War On Its Gaming Industry Racks Up 14k Casualties (10)
13:31 Chinese Government Fines Local Car Dealerships For Surveilling While Not Being The Government (5)
12:08 Eric Clapton Pretends To Regret The Decision To Sue Random German Woman Who Listed A Bootleg Of One Of His CDs On Ebay (29)
10:44 ICE Is So Toxic That The DHS's Investigative Wing Is Asking To Be Completely Separated From It (29)
10:39 Daily Deal: The 2022 Complete Raspberry Pi And Arduino Developer Bundle (0)
09:31 Google Blocked An Article About Police From The Intercept... Because The Title Included A Phrase That Was Also A Movie Title (24)
06:22 Wireless Carriers Balk At FAA Demand For 5G Deployment Delays Amid Shaky Safety Concerns (16)
19:53 Tenth Circuit Denies Qualified Immunity To Social Worker Who Fabricated A Mother's Confession Of Child Abuse (35)
15:39 Sci-Hub's Creator Thinks Academic Publishers, Not Her Site, Are The Real Threat To Science, And Says: 'Any Law Against Knowledge Is Fundamentally Unjust' (34)
13:32 Federal Court Tells Proud Boys Defendants That Raiding The Capitol Building Isn't Covered By The First Amendment (25)
12:14 US Courts Realizing They Have A Judge Alan Albright Sized Problem In Waco (17)
10:44 Boston Police Department Used Forfeiture Funds To Hide Purchase Of Surveillance Tech From City Reps (16)
10:39 Daily Deal: The Ultimate Microsoft Excel Training Bundle (0)
09:20 NY Senator Proposes Ridiculously Unconstitutional Social Media Law That Is The Mirror Opposite Of Equally Unconstitutional Laws In Florida & Texas (25)
06:12 Telecom Monopolies Are Exploiting Crappy U.S. Broadband Maps To Block Community Broadband Grant Requests (7)
12:00 Funniest/Most Insightful Comments Of 2021 At Techdirt (17)
10:00 Gaming Like It's 1926: Join The Fourth Annual Public Domain Game Jam (6)
09:00 New Year's Message: The Arc Of The Moral Universe Is A Twisty Path (33)
19:39 DHS, ICE Begin Body Camera Pilot Program With Surprisingly Good Policies In Place (7)
15:29 Remembering Techdirt Contributors Sherwin And Elliot (1)
13:32 DC Metro PD's Powerful Review Panel Keeps Giving Bad Cops Their Jobs Back (6)
12:11 Missouri Governor Still Expects Journalists To Be Prosecuted For Showing How His Admin Leaked Teacher Social Security Numbers (39)
10:48 Oversight Board Overturning Instagram Takedown Of Ayahuasca Post Demonstrates The Impossibility Of Content Moderation (10)
More arrow
This site, like most other sites on the web, uses cookies. For more information, see our privacy policy. Got it