Is Cat in the Hat Still Under Copyright? The Surprising Legal Status of Dr. Seuss’ Beloved Book


The Cat in the Hat is one of the most iconic and beloved children’s book characters created by Dr. Seuss. Since being published in 1957, it has become a staple in children’s literature. However, there has been some confusion over the copyright status of The Cat in the Hat over the years. This stems from the original copyright term, renewal terms, current status, trademark protections, public domain eligibility, and allowable uses under fair use.

Background on Dr. Seuss and The Cat in the Hat

Theodor Seuss Geisel, better known by his pen name Dr. Seuss, wrote and illustrated the iconic children’s book The Cat in the Hat in 1957. At the time, Dr. Seuss had already established himself as a successful children’s author with previous books like If I Ran the Zoo (1950) and Horton Hears a Who! (1955). However, The Cat in the Hat stood out for both its unconventional story and artwork as well as its instant success.

According to, Dr. Seuss was challenged by his publisher to create a book with a limited vocabulary that beginning readers could relate to. This led him to develop the iconic character of the Cat and his rambunctious visit with two children on a rainy day. With its simple rhyming text and playful illustrations, The Cat in the Hat was an immediate hit upon publication in 1957.

Original Copyright Term

When The Cat in the Hat was first published in 1957, the original term of copyright in the United States was 28 years. According to the Copyright Act of 1909, works published before 1978 were granted an initial 28 year term of copyright protection from the date of first publication. This initial term could be renewed for a second 28 year term by registering for a renewal with the U.S. Copyright Office during the last year of the original term.

As The Cat in the Hat was published in 1957, it received an original 28 year copyright term through 1985. The copyright was then eligible for renewal for another 28 years through 2013.

Copyright Renewals

The original copyright for The Cat in the Hat was secured by Dr. Seuss in 1957. At that time, copyright lasted for 28 years and had to be renewed to extend the term. According to the U.S. Copyright Office catalog, The Cat in the Hat’s copyright was renewed in 1985, extending its term through 2032 [1]. This renewal secured the maximum term possible at the time, meaning The Cat in the Hat will enter the public domain on January 1, 2033, barring any future changes to copyright law.

Current Copyright Status

The copyright for The Cat in the Hat is currently held by Dr. Seuss Enterprises, L.P., the company that owns and protects the intellectual property rights to Dr. Seuss’s works. Dr. Seuss Enterprises is a subsidiary of Universal Studios.

The original copyright term for The Cat in the Hat was 28 years from its publication date of 1957. However, the copyright was renewed in 1985, extending the protection period for another 67 years. According to the copyright renewal records, the copyright is not due to expire until 2052.

In addition to copyright, Dr. Seuss Enterprises holds trademarks on “The Cat in the Hat” name and image, providing further legal protections beyond just the story and text. Overall, the popular Dr. Seuss book remains well-protected under current copyright law and is exclusively controlled and licensed by Dr. Seuss Enterprises (Wikipedia).

Trademark Protections

While the story and characters of The Cat in the Hat are covered by copyright, Dr. Seuss Enterprises has obtained additional protections through trademarks as well. According to Justia, Dr. Seuss Enterprises filed trademark registrations for “CAT IN THE HAT” in 2010 and “THE CAT IN THE HAT” in 2015. These trademarks cover a wide range of merchandise including clothing, shoes, toys, games, and more.

Trademarks protect the distinctive logos, characters, names, and other brand elements associated with The Cat in the Hat. Even after the copyright expires, unauthorized use of trademarked elements like the Cat’s iconic red and white hat could still infringe on Dr. Seuss Enterprises’ intellectual property rights. Trademark law provides protections that are separate and distinct from copyright law.

Public Domain

The Cat in the Hat book was originally published in 1957. Under the copyright law at the time, works published in the US were protected for an initial term of 28 years with the option to renew for another 28 years. Dr. Seuss renewed the copyright on The Cat in the Hat, extending the protection through 2034.

According to the 1998 Copyright Term Extension Act, works published between 1964 and 1977 were given copyright protection for 95 years from publication date. Therefore, The Cat in the Hat will enter the public domain on January 1, 2053, 95 years after its original 1957 publication.

Once in the public domain, the story and characters from The Cat in the Hat will be free for anyone to use, share, or adapt without needing permission. This will allow broader reuse and adaptations of the work, but Dr. Seuss Enterprises will likely still hold trademark protections over the titles, character names, and distinct imagery.

Uses Allowed Under Fair Use

Even though The Cat in the Hat remains under copyright, certain uses are allowed under the doctrine of fair use. Fair use allows limited reproduction of copyrighted works for purposes such as criticism, comment, news reporting, teaching, scholarship or research. Parodies in particular have certain protections if they are transformative works that do not compete with or negatively impact the market for the original. However, courts have ruled that some parodies involving The Cat in the Hat do not qualify as fair use, such as the book The Cat NOT in the Hat which was found to infringe on Dr. Seuss’ copyrights ( Other limited reproduction or commentary on The Cat in the Hat is generally allowed under fair use, but any substantial reproductions or distributions would require licensing from the copyright holders.

Licensing and Royalties

Since The Cat in the Hat is copyrighted, people cannot legally use Cat in the Hat images or text without getting permission and paying royalties. Rights are managed by Dr. Seuss Enterprises, which handles licensing for books, characters, trademarks and other intellectual property created by Dr. Seuss.

Those interested in legally using Cat in the Hat works can apply for a license through Dr. Seuss Enterprises. If approved, they agree to pay negotiated royalties and follow usage guidelines. Dr. Seuss Enterprises pursues parties who use their IP without permission, as noted in their terms of use.

Major companies like Universal Studios, Random House, Hallmark and others have obtained licenses from Dr. Seuss Enterprises to produce authorized Cat in the Hat products. Smaller sellers can also apply, providing details on the type of merchandise, distribution channels and number of units. Licenses allow creatives to leverage the beloved Cat in the Hat brand while respecting intellectual property rights.


The Cat in the Hat, written and illustrated by Dr. Seuss, was originally published in 1957. Under the copyright law at the time, it had an initial copyright term of 28 years. In 1985, the copyright was renewed for another 67 years, extending its protection until 2052. Though the text and illustrations are still protected under copyright, some of the ancillary trademarks like the title logo have already expired.

While The Cat in the Hat remains under copyright, some uses like commentary, criticism, and parody may be permissible under fair use doctrine. But in general, reuses require licensing from the owners Dr. Seuss Enterprises or Penguin Random House. Barring any changes to US copyright law, the book is not expected to enter the public domain until January 1, 2053 at the earliest. Until then, Dr. Seuss’s estate can continue collecting royalties and licensing fees for the beloved children’s book.

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