Last November, during a Kickstarter campaign to fund Oh, The Places You’ll Boldly Go!, featuring the writing of David Gerrold, the art of Ty Templeton, and the editorial skills of ComicMix’s Glenn Hauman, Dr. Seuss Enterprises (DSE) filed suit for damages claiming the project infringed their copyright and trademark on Dr. Seuss’ Oh the Places You’ll Go!
ComicMix LLC moved to dismiss the lawsuit, and the motion was partially granted on June 9. U.S. District Court Judge Janis L. Sammartino dismissed the trademark infringement claims, but allowed the copyright claim to proceed, awaiting proof of any harm to the Dr. Seuss estate’s licensing opportunities. The estate has been given two weeks to amend its copyright infringement claims.
As ComicMix reports:
Judge Sammartino found that the book is “a highly transformative work that takes no more than necessary [from Dr. Seuss’s books] to accomplish its transformative purpose and will not impinge on the original market for Plaintiff’s underlying work” She emphasized that the case has broader significance: “…This case presents an important question regarding the emerging ‘mash-up’ culture where artists combine two independent works in a new and unique way. … 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.”
The court decision also explained why it rejected the motion to dismiss the copyright infringement claim.
In codifying the fair use doctrine, Congress set forth four non-exclusive factors for courts to consider in evaluating whether a particular use of a copyrighted work is fair:
(1) the purpose and character of the use, including whether such use is of a commercial nature or is for nonprofit educational purposes; (2) the nature of the copyrighted work; (3) the amount and substantiality of the portion used in relation to the copyrighted work as a whole; and (4) the effect of the use upon the potential market for or value of the copyrighted work.
…As it stands in this case, factors one and four — which “…have ‘dominated the case law’ and are generally viewed as the most important factors[,] …currently stand in equipoise. Factor two weighs slightly in favor of Plaintiff [DSE], and factor three is neutral. And although it would appear that the purposes of copyright favor Defendants [ComicMix, et al], that determination is also a close and unsettled call. Ultimately, given the procedural posture of this motion and near-perfect balancing of the factors, the Court DENIES Defendants’ Motion to Dismiss. Specifically, without relevant evidence regarding factor four the Court concludes that Defendants’ fair use defense currently fails as a matter of law.
Doctor Seuss Enterprises has until June 23 to present evidence about the effect on the market for the work whose copyright is allegedly infringed.