EFF to Court: Parody Book Combining Dr. Seuss and Star Trek Themes Is Fair Use

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Mash-up is Transformative Work Protected by Copyright Law

San Francisco—The Electronic Frontier Foundation (EFF) urged a federal appeals court today to rule that the creators of a parody book called “Oh The Places You’ll Boldly Go!”—a mash-up of Dr. Seuss and Star Trek themes—didn’t infringe copyrights in the Dr. Seuss classic “Oh The Places You’ll Go!”

The illustrated, crowdsourced book combines elements found in Dr. Seuss children’s books, like the look of certain characters and landscapes, with themes and characters from the sci-fi television series Star Trek, to create a new, transformative work of creative expression, EFF said in a brief filed today.

Dr. Seuss Enterprises, which licenses Seuss material, sued the book’s creators for copyright infringement. A lower court correctly concluded that the way in which the “Boldly” book borrows and builds upon copyrighted material in the Dr. Seuss book constitutes fair use under U.S. copyright law. EFF, represented by Harvard Law School’s Cyberlaw Clinic and joined by Public Knowledge, the Organization for Transformative Works, Professor Francesca Coppa, comic book writer Magdalene Visaggio, and author David Mack, asked the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Ninth Circuit to uphold the decision.

“The fair use doctrine recognizes that artists and creators must have the freedom to build upon existing culture to create new works that enrich, entertain, and amuse the public,” said EFF Legal Director Corynne McSherry. “Fair use is the safety valve that ensures creators like the authors of ‘Oh The Places You’ll Boldly Go!’ don’t have to beg permission from a copyright holder in order to make works that express new and unique ideas.”

“Oh The Places You’ll Boldly Go!” takes characters and images from five Dr. Seuss books and remakes them into comedic depictions of Captain Kirk, Mr. Spock, and various Star Trek creatures. The book’s visual puns—the multi-color saucer from the cover of “Oh The Places You’ll Go!” is used to create a new kind of starship Enterprise, while a Dr. Seuss character referred to as a “fix-it-up-chappie” is reimagined as Scotty, the ship’s chief engineer—are a form of commentary on the Seuss and Star Trek worlds.

“‘Boldly’s’ creative adaptation of Dr. Seuss works is an example of artistic expression that would be stifled by overly restrictive application of copyright law,” said McSherry.

For the brief:
https://www.eff.org/document/dr-seuss-v-comicmixeff-amicus-brief

For more on intellectual property and innovation:
https://www.eff.org/issues/innovation

Contact: 
Corynne
McSherry
Legal Director

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Author: Karen Gullo

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