Tuesday, September 21, 2004

"I'm a barbie girl, in a barbie world / Life in plastic, it's fantastic! / you can brush my hair, undress me everywhere / Imagination, life is your creation."
-Aqua, "Barbie Girl", from the album "Aquarium" (1997)

Yet another chapter in the never ending war against small mom & pop business owners, Mattel, manufacturers of the famous unrealistically proportioned fashion doll, has launched a lawsuit against small business owner Barbie Anderson-Whalley, the owner of Barbie's Shop, a Calgary based on-line retailer that sells fetish and goth-influenced apparel. Never mind the fact that this the person's actual name, which is legal under Canadian law.

It never fails to amuse me when large organizations put the squeeze on individuals and small businesses that allegedly infringe on their copyrights. I have nothing but full confidence that Mattel will end up losing this one and will be forced to cover the costs of the defendant. Given their recent litigous history and losing streak, this is almost a given.

September 1997 - May 1998: MCA records, the recording label behind Danish pop group Aqua, is sued by Mattel for their hit single, "Barbie Girl", alleging copyright infringement and trademark dilution, saying that the lyrics associated "sexual and other unsavory themes with Mattel's Barbie products." The lawsuit is dismissed, as the song fits the legal definition as a parody and social commentary.

December 2003: Mattel launches suit against Utah based artist Tom Forsythe for his work "Food Chain Barbie," which depicts Barbie placed in sexually suggestive poses while being mutilated by kitchen appliances (sizzling on a wok, baking in an oven, etc.). Mattel charges that copyright infringement, while the LA courts decide that it is a legal parody and protected under American freedom of expression laws. The appeal is summarily tossed out of court as well.

June 2004: Mattel launches suit against Barbie Benson, a stripper and nude model who owns and operates her own pay-use website. The charge is copyright infringement, even though the website has no association with the said plastic doll or logo. Mattel has since "given up" attempting to take control of the site, according to one news site.

It's always satisfying to see a large conglomerate take a tumble like this, especially in a world where justice has a price tag. Sadly, in cases like these, the law has had a tendency to side with the litigant. We see it all the time.

Disney: Despite the fact that Victor Hugo's story "The Hunchback of Notre Dame" is public domain and Polar Lights has been making the plastic model kits for about 30 years before Disney came out with their version, they put the squeeze on them. Rather than risk an expensive lawsuit, they cave and rename their product "The Bellringer of Notre Dame."

Starbucks: Essentially pissing on the liberties and freedoms that their forefathers fought and died for, Starbucks successfully sues artist Keiron Dwyer for his comic book magazine, "Lowest Common Denominator." The cover features a parody of the Starbucks mermaid, only she has nipple piercings, a dollar sign on her head, a coffee cup in one hand and a cell phone in the other. The words "Consumer Whore" replace "Starbucks Coffee". Despite the fact that it is legally defined as a parody, and Starbucks is an easy target, the law sides with Starbucks, as Mr. Dwyer's logo is "confusingly similar" to the Starbucks logo. He is forced to comply with the ruling.

Monsanto: One of the most litigious organizations around, they have actively supressed news media that is critical of their products, destroyed the environment, and made a lot of people really sick with their products. They also sued a bunch of people that didn't deserve it, such as Saskatchewan based farmer Percy Schmeister, who had wind blow Monsanto-modified seeds onto his field, which actually contaminated his own crop yield. This adds insult to injury.

My hope is that we will continue to see judgements like the ones being passed against Mattel, rather than the kind of judgements we see passed against Percy Schmeister and Keiron Dwyer. Caving to the demands and whims of large conglomerates undermines the principles of freedom under which the free nations of the world were founded.

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