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Artist can use Barbie in photos as social commentary

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    NMU         CALIFORNIA         Copyrights & Trademarks         Aug 16, 2001    

Artist can use Barbie in photos as social commentary

  • After several unsuccessful preliminary attempts by Mattel to stop a Utah artist, a federal district judge said the photos do not violate trademark law.

An artist’s use of the famous Barbie doll in photographs does not violate the manufacturer’s trademark, a federal district court judge in Los Angeles ruled on Aug. 13.

Judge Ronald Lew said Tom Forsythe made an acceptable, non-commercial use of Barbie when he posed the doll in a variety of scenes.

“The ruling doesn’t mean it’s open season (to exploit products by) Mattel, it means there is a certain amount of breathing room for artists who want to use a commercial symbol that has tremendous cultural meaning, for purposes of artistic expression,” Forsythe’s attorney Simon Frankel told the Reuters news service.

Forsythe’s art depicted Barbie naked on her back with an electric beater pointed toward her body (“Missionary Barbie”); naked and wrapped in tortillas, covered with tomato sauce and lying in a baking ban (“Barbie Enchiladas”); a Barbie reclined in a toaster oven (“Heatwave Barbie”); and a nude Barbie sitting in a martini glass (“Blue Ice Barbie”).

The court said Forsythe did not violate a trademark because Mattel could not sufficiently show consumers confused Barbie’s nature as a toy with the work by the artist.

Forsythe did not receive any monetary damages, but is trying to raise money to cover the cost of his defense, according to Reuters.

“I’m not the first person to parody Barbie and I’m sure I won’t be the last,” the Utah artist told Reuters.

(Mattel v. Walking Mountain Productions) SM

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