Dr. Seuss's estate may sue the publisher of a "Star Trek"-themed "mash-up" of the famed children's author's final book because it was not protected as "fair use," a federal appeals court ruled on Friday.
Reversing a lower court ruling, the 9th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals said Dr. Seuss Enterprises, which oversees the estate, may sue ComicMix LLC for infringing its copyright in the 1990 Seuss book "Oh, the Places You'll Go!" by publishing "Oh, the Places You'll Boldly Go!"
Circuit Judge Margaret McKeown wrote for a unanimous three-judge panel that "Boldly" did not qualify as protected parody, and was not "transformative" by replacing Seuss characters and other elements with "Star Trek" material.
Seuss' estate had complained about ComicMix's "slavish copying," including cover art mimicking the original's colored rings but shaped like the Enterprise, the "Star Trek" spaceship.
"ComicMix took the heart of Dr. Seuss's works," McKeown wrote, adding that one author of the mash-up offered to "replace the stuff that's too dead on" after the lawsuit began.
Lawyers for ComicMix did not immediately respond to requests for comment. The Seuss estate and its lawyers had no immediate comment.
Dr. Seuss was the pen name of Theodor Geisel, who died in 1991.
"Oh, the Places You'll Go!" often tops the New York Times bestseller list during graduation season.
The appeals court also upheld the dismissal of the estate's trademark claim, saying ComicMix's use of the Seussian title, style and typeface was not "explicitly misleading."
The lawsuit was returned to U.S. District Judge Janis Sammartino in San Diego, who had dismissed it in March 2019.
The case is Dr. Seuss Enterprises LP v ComicMix LLC et al, 9th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals, No. 19-55348.