(Reuters) – It may not be logical, but it is fair use.
A U.S. judge on Tuesday dismissed a lawsuit by Dr. Seuss Enterprises to stop publication of a “Star Trek”-themed book parodying the Seuss book “Oh, the Places You’ll Go!”
U.S. District Judge Janis Sammartino in San Diego said ComicMix’s crowdfunded “Oh, the Places You’ll Boldly Go!” made fair use of the 1990 Seuss book, and did not infringe copyrights of Dr. Seuss Enterprises, which oversees the author’s estate.
Sammartino said while ComicMix borrowed heavily from Seuss, “Boldly” was a “highly transformative” work, and any harm to the market for Seuss’ works was speculative.
“We’re ecstatic,” Michael Licari, a lawyer for ComicMix, said in an interview. “This is a big win for the First Amendment.” He said his client looks forward to publishing “Boldly,” pending a possible appeal.
In a statement, Dr. Seuss Enterprises said it may appeal.
It said it strongly disagreed with the fair use conclusion, and that Sammartino downplayed or ignored evidence that ComicMix “intended to preempt the important graduation market” for the Seuss original and would likely cause “real market harm.”
Dr. Seuss was the pen name of Theodor Geisel, who died in 1991.
The plaintiff objected to what it called ComicMix’s “slavish copying,” including cover art mimicking the original’s colored rings, but in the shape of the U.S.S. Enterprise, the “Star Trek” spaceship.
Sammartino, however, likened the case to when Paramount Pictures superimposed the head of actor Leslie Nielsen atop a nude, pregnant woman’s body for a poster for the 1994 movie “Naked Gun 33-1/3: The Final Insult.”
In 1998, a federal appeals court in Manhattan agreed with Annie Leibovitz that the poster borrowed more than necessary from her portrait of a nude, pregnant actress Demi Moore for a 1991 “Vanity Fair” cover, but was a parody protected as fair use.
Sammartino said that, in contrast, ComicMix took “no more from the copyrighted works than was necessary” for its purposes, and Dr. Seuss Enterprises could not claim a copyright over any disc-shaped item tilted at a particular angle.
Last July, the Manhattan appeals court rejected Dr. Seuss Enterprises’ separate challenge to a lewd and profane theatrical parody of the Seuss classic “How the Grinch Stole Christmas!” A lower court judge had said that parody was also fair use.
The case is Dr. Seuss Enterprises LP v ComicMix LLC, U.S. District Court, Southern District of California. No. 16-02779.
Reporting by Jonathan Stempel in New York; Editing by Chris Reese