The Ninth Circuit has completely reversed the lower court ruling of fair use in Dr. Seuss Enterprises, L.P. v. ComicMix LLC copyright infringement claim. The original case involved a mash-up of Star Trek and Dr. Seuss. The Dr. Seuss estate originally brought copyright and trademark infringement claims against ComicMix. The trademark infringement claims were dismissed (the Ninth Circuit did uphold this dismissal), leaving only the copyright infringement claims and whether the use of Dr. Seuss’ unique style was fair use.
Surprisingly, the Court did not refer to the prior ruling in its opinion. Instead, it ruled that all four factors of the fair use analysis weighed solidly in favor of the Seuss estate. Despite the work including “extensive new content”, the Court ruled that this new content did not rise to the level of being “transformative,” stating “the addition of new expression to an existing work is not a get-out-of-jail-free card that renders the use of the original transformative.” The Court found that the work did not attempt to parody, comment on, or critique Seuss’ work, stating the infringing merely took Seuss’ original work and added Star Trek elements.
Given the exact opposite rulings here, it will be interesting to see if ComicMix attempts an appeal to the US Supreme Court. And if it does, whether the Supreme Court agrees to hear the case. Stay tuned!