Oh Fair Use, the places you'll go!
In November 2016, Dr. Seuss Enterprises, L.P., sued Comicmix LLC and various individuals for copyright infringement, trademark infringement, and unfair business practices.
Comicmix created a work entitled Oh, The Places You'll Boldly Go! via Kickstarter. It is a mashup of Dr. Seuss's Oh, The Places You'll Go! and the Star Trek universe. The picture in this post is an exhibit that the district court analyzed.
Comicmix filed a motion to dismiss on various grounds, including fair use—arguing that its work was a parody of Dr. Seuss's work. Earlier this month, the court ruled on the motion.
The court rejected the parody argument—there wasn't enough commentary on Oh, The Places You'll Go! to qualify as parody. But the court still found that the work was transformative enough to maintain a fair-use defense.
The court rejected Dr. Seuss's argument that lack of parody precluded a fair-use defense. The court was worried that accepting that argument would expose a whole genre of art—the mashup—to copyright-infringement claims. Rather, the court determined that mashups—like Comicmix's—were transformative enough to maintain a fair-use defense. But because there were some other close factual questions, the court denied the motion to dismiss the copyright claim.
The court did grant Comicmix's motion with respect to Dr. Seuss's trademark claim. The claimed trademark was the title: Oh, The Places You'll Go!
Comicmix argued that it's use of the title was a nomative fair use, i.e., it used the mark to describe Dr. Seuss's product to indicate that it's product was a mashup of Dr. Seuss's book and Star Trek. The court agreed, dismissing the trademark and related unfair-business-practices claims.