Proving once again that the Internet makes bad publicity much worse, Mattel’s latest legal tangle over Barbie dolls has far-reaching PR impact. A US Circuit Court says Utah artist Thomas Forsythe’s use of Barbie dolls in photographs depicting the Mattel toy naked and being assaulted by kitchen appliances is protected as “free speech.”
The PR lesson: the stories will fade from newspapers and TV in a few days, but they’ll be in search engines forever. Score for Mattel’s image? Zero.
At issue this time (there are 1240 references to Mattel Barbie lawsuits in Google) was a 78 image series by Utah artist Thomas Forsythe, shot in 1999 and titled “Food Chain Barbie.”
Upholding a decision by a lower court, the court of appeals said the works are obvious parodies and do not infringe on the company’s copyright and trademark protection.
Mattel’s Litigious Bent
Mattel has a long history of mounting lawsuits over Barbie parodies, including a hilarious early Website of Barbie dolls in sexually compromising positions. They also sued Canadian stripper and nude model Barbie Doll Benson in 1999 over her domain name, insisting that it infringes on the Mattel trademark. The stripper, who’d been dancing with private dancers under that name for 16 years, won.
Mattel’s lawyers must be a really busy bunch because a Google search for “nude Barbie” turns up 229,000 results which will be online forever. The results in the first page of my search included:
Bizarre Nude Barbie Photo
Barbie & the Doll
Even About.com’s doll collecting blog has a recipe for a Barbie cake with a nude Barbie in the middle. will Mattel start raiding the homes of people who serve them?
Distorted Barbie, Messed up Barbie
Suicide bomber Barbie
and the Barbie liberation organization (BLO)
Well yes sir, those are my initials. No sir….