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Court Rules Seuss/Star Trek Parody Didn’t Violate Trademark Law

Star Trek parody
Didn’t violate Seuss rights
in original

A federal court in California has ruled that the title of a book called Oh, the Places You’ll Boldly Go! didn’t violate the trademark of Dr. Seuss Enterprises.

Theodor Seuss Geisel, who wrote under the name “Dr. Seuss,” was the author of more than 60 children’s books, including Oh, the Places You’ll Go!

The authors of the Boldly version launched a Kickstarter campaign to finance the printing and distribution of their book, which combines Seuss-style language with Star Trek characters and other elements.

The court found that Boldly was a parody and thus allowed as fair use.

In the 1989 Rogers v. Grimaldi case, which involved a suit by actress/dancer Ginger Rogers over the Federico Fellini film Ginger and Fred, the Ninth Circuit ruled that the title of an expressive work (such as a book) may be used with another work under the Lanham Act (which governs trademarks)

unless the title has no artistic relevance to the underlying work whatsoever, or, if it has some artistic relevance, unless the title explicitly misleads as to the source or the content of the work.

According to the court in the Seuss case, this test

insulates from restriction titles with at least minimal artistic relevance that are ambiguous or only implicitly misleading but leaves vulnerable to claims of deception titles that are explicitly misleading as to source or content, or that have no artistic relevance at all.

The Boldly book was clearly labeled as a parody, stating:

This is a work of parody, and is not associated with or endorsed by CBS Studios or Dr. Seuss Enterprises, L.P. … Copyright Disclaimer under section 107 of the Copyright Act 1976, allowance is made for `fair use’ for purposes such as criticism, comment, news reporting, teaching, scholarship, education, research, and parody.

However, the court only ruled on trademark infringement claims involving the title, and not on infringement claims involving the font and illustration style in the Boldly book.

The case is Dr. Seuss Enterprises v. ComicMix LLC.

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