DR. SEUSS/STAR TREK Mash-up case unexpectedly SETTLES because of cancer…

Do you remember those children’s stories/books/movies/after-school specials where two rival groups are fighting, and suddenly one of the combatants is seriously hurt and everyone comes to their senses? These “simplistic” stories usually climax in the two battling groups putting aside their differences long enough to work together to help the injured person, ultimately realizing that what they were fighting about wasn’t nearly as important as a person’s life.

Believe it or not, the same thing essentially just happened in the copyright infringement lawsuit filed by DR. SEUSS ENTERPRISES (DSE) against Star Trek author DAVID GERROLD, award-winning comic book artist TY TEMPLETON, and ComicMix LLC editor GLENN HAUMAN. Back in late 2016, DSE sued the aforementioned trio over their attempts to crowd-fund and publish a “mash-up” book mixing Dr. Seuss style drawings with Star Trek inspired characters. It was to be titled Oh, the Places You’ll Boldly Go! and here’s some sample artwork of the mash-up alongside the Dr. Seuss originals…

Click to enlarge.

After nearly five years, countless legal motions, judicial rulings, appeals, appellate opinions, and a ridiculous number of blogs that made me feel like I was writing endless research reports in law school(!!!), this potentially precedent-setting case officially settled last Friday, October 8. (You can read a summary of the roller coaster ride at the beginning of this previous blog.)

So what happened to suddenly bring about this seemingly last-minute settlement after five years of legal struggles?

Sadly, cancer happened—specifically colorectal cancer, stage three. Ty Templeton got the diagnosis back in May of this year, and it was serious news. In June, he posted this blog, with Ty’s cartoon bunny “alter ego” explaining that his cancer would be inoperable until he went through months of chemotherapy and radiation treatments. He was still “on the winning side of the odds,” but it wasn’t going to be an easy time for him.

He actually went in for surgery last Wednesday, and I am told that it went well. Let’s all please keep Ty in our thoughts and prayers.

Eisner Award winning artist Ty Templeton

In the meantime, things were heating up in the lawsuit. Back in May, ComicMix filed a Writ Of Certiorari to the Supreme Court asking them to review the case and overturn a devastating appellate opinion by a 3-judge Ninth Circuit panel ruling that Boldly was not considered to be fair use. On June 21, the Supreme Court declined to hear the case, leaving the most recent appellate ruling in place and sending the case back to the original judge.

Then in August, with the case once again in the Ninth Circuit courtroom of Judge Hon. JANIS L. SAMMARTINO, she denied both the Plaintiff’s motion for summary judgement of the case (refusing to simply rule that Team Mash-up was liable for damages and ending the lawsuit with a pre-trial win for DSE) as well as the Defendant’s motion to consult with the U.S. Registrar of Copyrights because ComicMix believed that DSE’s copyright registrations for the Sneeches and the Zacks may not have been properly filed and might have fallen into the public domain. Obviously, it’s hard to infringe on something that is no longer copyrighted, but alas, that motion wasn’t granted either.

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Star Trek/Dr. Seuss “Mash-Up” creators received a CEASE & DESIST letter from CBS!

Is CBS switching back from copyright infringement lawsuits to cease & desist letters?  It’s hard to read the tea leaves when it comes to a multi-billion dollar corporation, but we may have just gotten a clue.

The year 2016 was a turbulent and uncertain time for the world of Star Trek fan films.  It began with a copyright infringement lawsuit against Alec Peters and AXANAR, and then by the summer, fans were presented with a series of fan film guidelines listing the things fans were and were not allowed to do if they wanted to avoid legal action on the part of CBS and Paramount.

But were lawsuits now the “new normal”?  Would fan films that violated the guidelines find themselves dragged into court for expensive litigation?  The studios weren’t saying.  For many years, most fan film producers had (perhaps naively) assumed that the worst that would happen would be they’d get a call (or letter or e-mail) from the studios saying, “Stop what you’re doing.”  Even Alec Peters himself figured he’d probably get a call long before ever being served with a multi-million dollar lawsuit.  Man, was he wrong!

Ironically, had the studios simply sent Alec a cease & desist letter instead of suing, they could have saved themselves nearly a million dollars in attorneys fees and 12 months of polarizing publicity with likely a similar result of a scaled-down Axanar.  But that’s a “what if” scenario that we’ll never see played out in this universe.

But here’s a question: did CBS’s and Paramount’s experience with the year-long Axanar lawsuit leave a bad enough taste in the studio execs’ mouths that they’ve decided to dial things back from battlestations to just yellow alert?  Are the studios ready to return to good ol’ fashioned cease & desist letters to get the job done?

The answer to this question might come from another copyright infringement lawsuit going on right now involving Star Trek…and Dr. Seuss!

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“OH, THE PLACES YOU’LL BOLDLY GO!” wins a key FAIR USE victory in court!

Last November, a crowd-funded Star Trek project got sued for copyright and trademark infringement by a major rights holder.

No, not Axanar!  That was the previous year, silly (although the Axanar lawsuit was still going on when this other lawsuit was filed).  In this new case, however, the defendant was none other that renown Star Trek screenwriter/author DAVID GERROLD  (the man who gave us tribbles!) along with Marvel/DC (and others) comic book artist TY TEMPLETON and their publisher ComicMix, LLC.

Gerrold and Templeton had created a parody mash-up book based on Dr. Seuss’s beloved classic Oh, The Places You’ll Go!  In their new book, Dr. Seuss was mashed-up with Star Trek to create Oh, The Places You’ll Boldly Go! with pages that that adapted the originals on the left to look like the ones on the right:

The accompanying rhymes were obviously Seussian, as well…things like.

You can get out of trouble, any that’s knotty, because in a pinch you’ll be beamed out by Scotty.

Weird things will happen, and they usually do, to starship explorers and their marvelous crew.

They launched a Kickstarter in late 2106 and took in $30,000 before the rights owners of Dr. Seuss’ collected works had the campaign shut down for an alleged copyright violation.  The following month, a full infringement lawsuit was filed on behalf of Dr. Seuss Enterprises by law firm DLA PIPER, LLP.  Here is the 19-page Seuss Complaint if you’re interested in reading it.  It’s very similar to CBS and Paramount’s initial filing against Axanar, citing the same demands for $150,000 in statutory damages per violation PLUS attorneys fees.

The Axanar detractors were quick to pounce.  SHAWN P. O’HALLORAN, one of the most prolific posters of petulance and profanity, had this to say:

You believe its fair use? You would be mistaken. It’s intellectual property theft and they came right out in their campaign and acknowledged that they were poking the bear to get sued.  David Gerrold is a blatant IP theft [sic] who supports other blatant IP thieves such as Alec Peters…

O’Halloran was referring to the following message included in the “Risks and Challenges” section on their original Kickstarter page:

While we firmly believe that our parody, created with love and affection, fully falls within the boundary of fair use, there may be some people who believe that this might be in violation of their intellectual property rights. And we may have to spend time and money proving it to people in black robes. And we may even lose that.

But it’s looking like they might actually have a chance to win…

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