Published by Penguin in 1996, the book The Cat NOT in the Hat! A Parody by Dr. Juice told the case of O. J. Simpson using the elements from Dr.Seuss’s The Cat in the Hat. The publisher and the author were sued for copyright infringement later. It was determined by the Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals as “not a fair use”.
Let us first look at how alike they are.
Here is the original cover:
And here is the cover of “the Cat NOT in the Hat!”:
Obviously, the two covers share a similar design style. Their title occupies the right half and the figure occupies the left half, facing towards the title. Also, the font of the title mimicked the original font. As for the illustration of the figure, both characters wear the red and white striped hat.
Inside the book, Dr. Juice is using the rhymical style of Dr. Seuss to retell the story of O.J. Simpson. For example, “A man this famous/ Never hires/ Lawyers like/ Jacoby Meyers/ When you’re accused of a killing scheme/ You need to build a real Dream Team”. The court believed that Dr. Juice’s work copied substantially from Dr. Seuss’s work.
But, on the cover of Dr. Juice’s book, it clearly claimed itself as a “parody”. Is it a fair use if the book is a parody? More essentially, is it a parody as it claimed to be?
As we mentioned, Dr Juice’s book told the case of O.J. Simpson using the rhymical style of Dr. Seuss. The story inside the book is not relevant to the original work. According to the court, “The work was not a parody, because it did not hold up Dr. Seuss’s style, but merely mimicked it to attract attention or avoid the difficult work of developing original material”. The book is non-transformative.
Also, the book was published for profit which was clearly commercial. Due to the commercial nature of the book, the court inferred that there would be harm to the market of the original work. Dr. Juice and his publisher failed to provide evidence to go against the inference of the court.
Therefore, the court finally decided it as “not a fair use”.
In conclusion, I agree with the court’s decision. The lesson to learn here is that to be fair use, a parody is supposed to mock the author or the content of the original work. If the content of the parody is nothing related to the original work, then it is more likely to be decided as not a fair use.
Dr. Seuss Enters., LP v. Penguin Books USA, Inc.,109 F.3d 1394 (9th Cir. 1997) https://www.copyright.gov/fair-use/summaries/drseuss-penguinbooks-9thcir1997.pdf
Satire or Parody? Dr.Seuss Enterprises v. Penguin Books USA