Monday, June 28, 2004

In graduate school I took a class called "The Law and Mass Communication." It was basically about libel law and the right to privacy, taught in a most organized and fascinating fashion by Professor Stephen Solomon, who is truly one of the best university instructors out there.

Anyhow, the assignment for the big paper was to choose an actual, current, court case involving communications law and explain all the background for the case, the precedents that the judge might look at, etc etc. This involved lots of research in the NYU Law Library, which is both very beautiful and very full of religious Jewish men, so I didn't mind.

Being full up on libel and privacy information, I decided to choose a case on copyright and trademark infringment, instead. Mattel had recently launched a lawsuit against an artist named Tom Forsythe, who had created and sold a series of photos of Barbie dolls in, shall we say, compromising positions. Naked Barbies in a blender. Naked Barbies melting in a toaster oven. Naked Barbie bent over a martini glass with, um, an electric whisker, um, attacking her from the back. (The color appendices made my paper the most visually interesting of any in the class.)

So, Forsythe had made some disgusting photos making fun of Barbie and everything she stands for. They are crude and either very misogynist or very feminist, depending on what you think about Barbie dolls. They are anti-consumerist, weird . . . and don't sell well. He'd sold only a few thousand dollars worth of pictures. Who would put this up in their office? Meanwhile, Mattel, a company which apparently is run by a group of lawyers with electric whiskers up their . . . . well, anyway, with no sense of humor, slapped this no-name, bizarro artist with a heavy lawsuit.

It was obvious even to me, a lowly journalism student in a basic law class, that the case was frivolous. The Copyright Act is meant to protect you from those trying to make a buck off of copying your work, not those trying to make a buck off of making fun of your work. At the time, Judge Ronald Lew had denied Mattel's request for an injunction against the artist, indicating that he agreed with me. After the course ended, the judge ruled in favor of Forsythe, but the whole thing got appealed a few times. Mattel was being their self-rightous selves, and Forsythe wanted reimbursement for legal fees.

Well, it's all over now. My favorite part is where Judge Lew basically tells Mattel "your lawyers are idiots and you have poles up your . . . " Well.

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