Barbie has been busy at Court!

August 21, 2023
Written by Alina Lee

While the Barbie live-action movie was a success, numerous lawsuits have been filed in court as Mattel, Inc., the doll’s creator, has attempted to uphold its rights and safeguard her image since its release in 1959. Here are some of them:

🎀 2004: Mattel filed a suit alleging that the “Rockettes 2000”, a doll created by the Radio City Music Hall in celebration of the millennium, copied facial features from two distinct Barbie dolls. According to the U.S. District Court for the Southern District of New York, Barbie’s eyes, nose, and mouth were not covered by copyright protection. Yet the 2nd U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals disagreed and stated: “We can surmise that in the highly competitive, billion-dollar doll industry, getting the doll’s face and expression exactly right is crucial to success.”

🎀 2003: Mattel sued for infringement as Tom Forsythe, a Utah photographer, produced pictures of naked Barbie dolls posed with kitchen appliances. But Forsythe won. The 9th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals determined that the photographer’s social commentary and parody constituted a “fair use” of Mattel’s copyright and was protected under the First Amendment.

🎀 2002: Mattel filed an injunction restraining Susanne Pitt from producing a “Dungeon Doll,” which resembled a Barbie doll that had been repainted and given a new appearance while wearing a lederhosen-style bondage dress and helmet, as well as a mask and waspie. The court determined that Pitt may have a “fair use” defense due to the fact that Pitt’s dolls were “transformative” and not merely “supplanting” the original Barbie doll and Barbie does not have a line of “S+M” dolls.

🎀 1991: Mattel claimed that the toy company Kenner and the Miss America Organization’s “Miss America” line of five dolls breached the Barbie copyright. Mattel had an order of the dolls and were confiscated by US Customs on suspected infringement. Kenner and the Miss America Organization sued Mattel, asking for a ruling that the dolls did not violate Mattel’s copyright and an injunction prohibiting Mattel from interfering with their importation of the dolls. The court found that judicial involvement was unnecessary and that Customs should handle the situation in accordance with the administrative procedure outlined in Treasury Department regulations.

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About The Author Alina Lee

I am a marketing law attorney who helps marketing agencies and companies with marketing departments protect their brands. In my legal career, I’ve worked at two prominent law firms and in-house at two renowned companies. Through my firm, Your Ad Attorney, I provide end-to-end legal counseling for your front-end marketing, online paywalls, and customer service communications. Plus, I provide up front flat rates on a project-by-project basis with clear turnaround times.

Prior results do not guarantee a similar outcome.

This blog gives general information about marketing law trends and updates. Nothing on this site is meant as legal advice. Each situation differs on a case-by-case basis depending on the facts presented. Providing this information doesn’t create an attorney-client relationship and readers should not act upon this information without seeking legal counsel. 


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