Oh, the Places You’ll Boldly Go!

Dr. Seuss Enterprises, L.P. v. ComicMix LLC, 372 F. Supp. 3d 1101 (S.D. Ca. 2019).

Dan Booth Law secured a sweeping victory in a cutting-edge copyright and trademark case that stands to transform the rights of creative artists to make mash-ups, using existing works for new purposes. Our clients David Gerrold (who wrote the “The Trouble With Tribbles” episode in the original Star Trek series), illustrator Ty Templeton, and publisher Glenn Hauman developed a radically inventive work in 2016. Their book Oh, The Places You’ll Boldly Go! is a parody mash-up that riffs off of the Dr. Seuss best-seller Oh, The Places You’ll Go! in Star Trek form, while it recasts the TV series in Seussian form. In 2016, Hauman’s publishing company ComicMix LLC ran a Kickstarter campaign to cover the cost of the initial print run. But before a draft of the book was complete, Dr. Seuss Enterprises, L.P. (“DSE”), which administers the late author’s copyrights, demanded that all publishing plans cease and sent a DMCA takedown to Kickstarter. The defendants fought back and DSE filed suit to keep the book off the market. The court granted our motion for summary judgment. On the copyright claims, we won a rare ruling that Oh, The Places You’ll Boldly Go! is a fair use of Dr. Seuss’s work. The court found it is a “highly transformative” work that takes no more of the Seuss original than necessary for its purposes, and after nearly three years of litigation, DSE had no evidence that publication would cause any harm to the market value of Oh, the Places You’ll Go! or any licensed derivative work. We also defeated DSE’s trademark claims. Its allegation that the new book would infringe a trademark in the title of Oh, The Places You’ll Go! failed under the heightened First Amendment protection given to expressive works. And the court found that DSE’s claimed rights in Dr. Seuss’s illustration style are not a legal trademark at all. DSE is appealing the decision to the Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals, so the case will remain a launching pad for further explorations of the frontiers of fair use.