There’s a saying that “the mills of God grind slowly”, and for “God” you can also read “justice”. Take, for example, the Seuss/ComicMix lawsuit over the proposed mashup book Oh, the Places You’ll Boldly Go! Five years after it began, the case has been settled, for a terrible reason, and setting a terrible precedent.
A short summary: ComicMix ran a Kickstarter in September 2016 for the book, intended as a Star Trek adventure told in rhyme, written by David Gerrold and drawn by Ty Templeton in the style of a Dr. Seuss book. Dr. Seuss Enterprises sued.
In December 2017, trademark infringement claims were dismissed, but copyright claims were allowed to proceed. In March 2019, a judge affirmed that the proposed book was transformative and could be published on fair use grounds.
The Seuss folks appealed. The 9th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals took their side, ruling that the project was not parody or sufficiently transformative. As Heidi noted in her summary at the end of 2020, “most big companies let this kind of thing go, but the Seuss estate is notoriously litigious.”
The Supreme Court had refused to take the case last June, which didn’t leave a lot of options. The case has now been settled. The ruling sets a precedent that mash-ups may not have legal protection, as the court found that simply putting two properties together wasn’t transformative enough.
As reported by Reuters last week, “the parties agreed that the book infringes Seuss’ copyrights and permanently bars ComicMix LLC, former Star Trek writer David Gerrold, illustrator Ty Templeton, and others from selling it, while Seuss agreed to drop any claims for damages or attorneys’ fees.”
“ComicMix’s publisher Glenn Hauman said in a statement that they settled because of Templeton’s Stage 3 colorectal cancer diagnosis earlier this year. He stated, ‘as Ty’s collaborators and friends, we refuse to put him through any additional stress that would in any way impinge on his health and recovery.’” There is more detail in the posted ComicMix statement, including a note that the book could be released in “another forty years, when the Dr. Seuss copyrights are set to expire and his books enter the public domain.”
Templeton revealed his cancer diagnosis in a post to his blog earlier this year, in which he also stated that treatment had forced him to bow out of art chores on DC’s Batman: The Adventures Continue series. It’s a shame that Oh, the Places You’ll Boldly Go! isn’t available for readers to purchase, as Templeton’s work on it looks spot-on, but if the court case’s settlement is one less source of stress for the artist during what is surely an already trying time, it’s probably for the best.
The Beat sends good wishes to Templeton, his family and friends.