For tribbles-creator DAVID GERROLD, award-winning comic artist TY TEMPLETON, and ComicMix publisher GLENN HAUMAN, last Friday was not a fun day. While there was one tiny piece of good news in their ongoing legal struggle with DR. SEUSS ENTERPRISES (DSE) regarding the Star Trek/Seuss mash-up Oh, The Places You’ll Boldly Go! (“Boldly” for short), the main part of the news was rather unfortunate.
Things looked rosy for ComicMix back in March of 2019. After nearly two years in litigation, Ninth Circuit Federal Judge Hon. JANIS SAMMARTINO ruled before the trial could even begin that Boldly was protected from DSE’s infringement lawsuit because she considered it to be Fair Use. (You can read an in-depth analysis of that ruling here.) She threw out DSE’s complaints for both copyright infringement as well as for trademark infringement (two different things), effectively ending the lawsuit before a jury could even be seated.
Five months later, DSE filed an appeal to the Ninth Circuit, trying to reverse the summary ruling from Judge Sammantino. Last Friday, a three-judge appellate panel came back with a unanimous decision that Boldly did NOT qualify as Fair Use, and so the copyright infringement lawsuit could proceed. The panel also ruled that the summary dismissal of the trademark infringement decision was indeed correct, and so that aspect of the lawsuit is over. (You can read the full appellate opinion here.)
So…good news/bad news, right?
Well, it’s much more bad news than good, I’m afraid. The trademark claim was always the thinnest of arguments, and even DSE didn’t push hard on that point during their appeal (four amicus briefs were filed, and none of them touched at all on the trademark question). What DSE really wanted was the copyright infringement complaint reinstated, and they got it.
SO WHAT DOES THIS MEAN?
DSE hasn’t won yet. But now they haven’t lost either. We are simply back to where we were at the beginning of 2019 before the judge made her summary ruling. The lawsuit is on again, heading back to Judge Sammartino’s courtroom.
If you’re DSE, you’re ecstatic and holding all the cards right now. There will (most likely) still be a trial, but if you can convince three out of four learned judges that Boldly isn’t Fair Use, you should certainly be able to convince twelve ordinary folks of the same thing. And indeed, you might not even need to, since the appellate judges’ ruling might preclude using a Fair Use defense entirely (more on that in a moment).
Now, if you’re ComicMix, you have a decision to make, and you really have only three choices on the menu…Continue reading “The news is mixed (but pretty bad) for ComicMix as they both lose and win the DR. SEUSS/STAR TREK Mash-Up appeal…”