So this morning, I remained curious as to the odd inaccessibility of the dylanhearsawho.com website. It’s not that the site was down when you tried to connect, it was that is was still up, with a message saying it was down. To me, that signaled the creator, reported to be a Kevin Ryan of Houston, had taken the site down, probably under duress. This morning, the site’s message changed. It now says, “At the request of Dr. Seuss Enterprises, L.P., this site has been retired. Thanks for your interest.”
It’s easy to guess why: If you look at the record, the company bearing the late Dr. Seuss’s name is jealous of its intellectual property, and this is far from the first time it has pursued publishers large or small over parody and copyright. In 1997, Seuss went after Penguin Books U.S.A. and Dove audio to stop the release of “The Cat NOT in the Hat! A Parody by Dr. Juice,” a work comprised of “a rhyming summary of highlights from the O.J. Simpson double murder trial.” As a federal appeals court noted in upholding an injunction against Penguin and Dove, under the Copyright Act of 1976, “Seuss, as the owner of the Dr. Seuss copyrights, owns the exclusive rights (1) to reproduce the copyrighted work; (2) to prepare derivative works based on the copyrighted work; (3) to distribute copies or phonorecords of the copyrighted work to the public; (4) to perform the work publicly; and (5) to display the copyrighted work publicly.”
Given all that, some little guy in Texas inspired to bring Dylan and Dr. Seuss together never stood a chance. One is tempted to say, “So much for the sense of fun in Seussville” and leave it at that, but I decided to try to find out what was going on. Maybe there’s a story in it.
So I called Dr. Seuss Enterprises in La Jolla, California. A woman answered the phone, and I stated my name and business; she told me that the company was “very aware” of the site and that its legal team–which I had determined is the San Diego office of DLA Piper–was “working on it.” When I asked whether she could direct me to one of the attorneys involved, she said no and that I should talk to someone at Seuss’s publisher, Random House, which handles media relations. When I asked to whom I should speak at Random House, she put me on hold.
In a minute, Susan Brandt, Seuss’s executive vice president for licensing and marketing, got on the phone. I went through my spiel again, saying that I had heard about the site through friends, looked at it, then noticed last night that it was inaccessible. I wanted to know whether the company or perhaps the Dylan people had demanded it be taken down.
“We’re not making any comment about this,” Brandt said. But, I told her, the unidentified person I had already spoken to had said the company’s lawyers were aware of the site. “We’re aware of everything that has to do with Dr. Seuss,” she said. Then she asked why I was asking questions about this and why I wanted to write a story about it. I told her that I simply thought it was an interesting, if minor, story on a site that had been instantly popular and might have been shut down under pressure from copyright owners. Brandt told me she had nothing more to say about the matter. When I asked her to spell her name and repeat her title, she refused, saying, “I’m not going to be quoted about any of this.” I told her she would in fact be quoted if I wrote about it, as I had identified myself, told her what I wanted and that her comments were on the record. Our conversation closed with:
“OK, Mr. … Brek …”
“Good luck with your story, Mr. Brekke.” And then she hung up.
So much for the sense of fun in Seussville. And so much for the smooth handling of media relations (I wonder if I would have gotten the same welcome if I’d been calling from People Magazine, say, or the Wall Street Journal?).
[I’ve got calls and messages out to attorneys for Dylan and Seuss Enterprises, but so far they haven’t responded.]