Seuss Estate And ComicMix Copyright Case Settles In The Saddest Possible Way

from the sad-I-am dept

Readers here will know that we’ve followed the trademark and copyright lawsuit filed by the estate of Dr. Seuss against ComicMix LLC, creators of the mashup book Oh, the Places You’ll Boldly Go! The entire thing has been a multi-year rollercoaster designed to be serpentine, with ComicMix arguing that the mashup book was transformative and covered by fair use, and winning on that front, only to have the copyright portion of the argument overturned on appeal. Go and read Cathy Gellis’ writeup on the appeal; it’s incredibly detailed and informative.

But if anyone was hoping to see this case progress up the federal court ranks, they will be both disappointed and sad. Disappointed because the parties have now settled the case with ComicMix agreeing to acknowledge that the book did, in fact, infringe on Suess’ copyrights.

Dr. Seuss Enterprises LP and the makers of the Dr. Seuss/”Star Trek” mashup book “Oh, the Places You’ll Boldly Go!” have settled Seuss’ copyright infringement claims, according to a Tuesday filing in San Diego federal court.

In an agreement filed with the court, the parties agreed that the book infringes Seuss’ copyrights and permanently bars ComicMix LLC, former “Star Trek” writer David Gerrold, illustrator Ty Templeton and others from selling it, while Seuss agreed to drop any claims for damages or attorneys’ fees.

The court document is embedded below so you can see it for yourself. This is normally where I would rant and rave about how these settlements, which might make sense for one or both sides of a given conflict, are actually very bad for the larger public as they do not properly resolve the open questions contained in the dispute. In this case, the full weight of the court and legal system has not had its say on whether the mashup book infringed Suess’ copyrights. Two courts have disagreed and this could have progressed further, potentially up to the Supreme Court, but the settlement puts a stop to that process.

That said, it’s difficult to be to rant-y and rave-y about this particular settlement given the reason it was sought out. Remember that part I said above about this being sad? Well…

The defendants’ attorney Dan Booth of Dan Booth Law said in a statement that his clients settled because of Templeton’s diagnosis of Stage 3 colorectal cancer earlier this year.

“After five years of litigation and with the pre-trial deadlines looming, as Ty’s collaborators and friends, we refuse to put him through any additional stress that would in any way impinge on his health and recovery. To the credit of the people at Dr. Seuss Enterprises, they didn’t want to put Ty through that either,” Booth said. “So we joined in a motion to end the suit the day before Ty’s surgery, in order to alleviate the less serious pain in his butt.”

Two things I absolutely have to mention. First, I appreciate the hell out of Booth including a butt joke in a statement about his friend having colorectal cancer. I imagine that he knows Ty would be okay with such a joke, in which case this is just plain good comedy. Second, and more important, the proper framing of this news story should be that the Dr. Seuss Estate extracted a settlement over a copyright dispute for a book that very much did the estate no harm because it was bullying a cancer patient. Somehow, one imagines Suess himself not being in love with this idea, but that is pure speculation.

What isn’t speculation is that, as Cathy made the point in the earlier post, this represents a culture loss. Mashup art is not rare and has become, to some discernable level, a part of our culture. This settlement manages to add another bit of ammunition from protectionists who want to control and license every last thing related to their works, whether fair use ought to apply or not.

I understand why this settlement was reached… but it both sucks and is sad.

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Companies: comicmix, dr. seuss enterprises

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Comments on “Seuss Estate And ComicMix Copyright Case Settles In The Saddest Possible Way”

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Rico R. (profile) says:

Ode to the Wait For a New Circuit Split...

Oh, the places some go
To defend copyright
And say they were on the right side of this fight

Now, the culture’s grown thin
Yet they do not care
The author’s long dead
But they are his heir

The Trekkies held fast
For as long as they could
Their mashup was fair
As they understood

Yes, one court agreed
Another did not
The SCOTUS refused to weigh in as they fought

This battle was lost
The war boldly drags on
Some new artists are chilled
And this comic is gone

Transformation’s now weakened
Thanks to one Dr. Seuss
‘Cause the mashup is dead
Long live fair use!

Rico R. (profile) says:

Re: Re: Re: Ode to the Wait For a New Circuit Split...

Not true unfortunately… the Ninth Circuit’s decision has the phrase “For Publication” at the top of the first page. This means the legal finding is setting a binding precedent for the Ninth Circuit, and can be considered influential in other circuits. I live in the jurisdiction of the Seventh Circuit, for example, so while a plaintiff who might sue me over a fanvid could point to this case as persuasive in deciding the case, but any court in the Seventh Circuit is in no obligation to follow it. (But given this was the circuit that said transformative works could implicate the derivative work right in a fair use case, I’m not exactly hopeful.). Yet, within the Ninth Circuit, the court would be bound by its interpretation from this case.

Anonymous Coward says:

Re: Re: Re:2 Ode to the Wait For a New Circuit Split...

But if there a case like this in other Circuit and there rule differently then the Ninth Circuit ruling can be overturned in a higher court?

For know does this mean the end of fair use in the Ninth Circuit jurisdiction or the whole of the US?

Space5000 (profile) says:


I really wish a lot of people would start protesting by calling out how corrupt our Copyrights is today alone. There are lots of people who are like defenders of certain infringing cases, but I would like to see people directly call out how ridiculous Copyright laws have went and actually try to properly change them for the better, if they aren’t doing that.

PaulT (profile) says:

Re: Re:

Probably nothing significant, but we’ll never know. The case being settled means there’s no legal precedent being set. The fact that the case happened at all might represent a chilling effect on future works, but a lot of people creating such stuff won’t necessarily sit around considering the legal ramifications before they create it.

TripMN (profile) says:

So they can’t sell it, but is it posted somewhere for free as a PDF?

This is culture and advancement of Seuss’ style and legacy. If the those sitting on his grave aren’t getting paid enough from books they didn’t write that they have to shut down something that is an homage as much as anything, the least we can do is keep the culture pushing forward by spreading this underground.

Brian L. Frye (profile) says:

Re: Re: Cat Not in the Hat!

I don’t know if there’s a PDF of The Cat Not in the Hat! available, but I created a video of myself reading the book, with images of all the pages & put it on YouTube. Ironically, Alan Katz, the author of the infringing book, submitted a takedown request. I responded & I’m trying to goad him into suing me (he lacks standing under 9th circuit precedent). In the meantime, I posted the video to the Internet Archive.

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