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Copyright Blog

Settlement: The Final Frontier

The creators of a notable Star Trek–Dr. Seuss mashup have reached an accord with the author's estate

We previously reported on this case in July 2021, May 2020, and November 2019. The case concerned a picture book embodying an elaborate mashup of Star Trek characters and tropes with illustrations and lyrical elements from the late Dr. Seuss's famous storybooks, particularly Oh, the Place You'll Go. Dr. Seuss Enterprises, L.P. ("Seuss"), the successor to the author's intellectual property interests, filed suit against ComicMix LLC, the creator of the mashup, for both copyright and trademark infringement. The district court that initially heard the case ruled in favor of ComicMix on both issues, finding, in particular, that the use of Seuss's copyrighted expression was excused under the fair use doctrine. However, Seuss appealed the case to the 9th Circuit Court of Appeals, and, while the higher court agreed that ComicMix prevailed on the trademark issue, it issued a ruling categorically denying that fair use justified the use of Seuss's copyrighted material, finding that all four fair use factors weighed against a fair use determination. The case was then remanded to the lower court.

In an apparently last-ditch effort to skirt around the 9th Circuit's ruling rejecting the fair use defense, ComicMix filed a Reconsideration Motion, asking the lower court to apply new 9th Circuit precedent in such a way that the final judgement of the higher court could be reconsidered by the lower court. Seuss, on the other hand, filed a renewed motion for summary judgement on the issue of copyright infringement. In an Order filed on August 9, 2021, the court denied both Motions, finding ComicMix's novel argument unpersuasive and concluding that a reasonable jury could possibly find that there was not substantial similarity in the total concept and feel of the copyrighted works, making the matter inappropriate for summary judgment.

A few months after this order, the parties seem to have reached a settlement, and on October 5, 2021, they filed a Joint Motion for Entry of Consent Judgment and Permanent Injunction, indicating that the parties had agreed to fully resolve all the claims in the litigation and requesting a permanent injunction restraining ComicMix from any further infringement of Seuss's works, including any further promotion or distribution of the mashup. The court issued an Order granting the Joint Motion and accompanying injunction on October 8, 2021, closing the book on a long-running and colorful case.