He [Tom Forsythe] posed the naked [Barbie] dolls in blenders, frying in a wok, skewered on fondue sticks, in martini glasses, wrapped in tortilla shells, and with other household appliances. Barbie, a Blender, and the First Amendment

Barbie, America’s first lady of plastic, has recently found herself the subject of a nude photo shoot in what some would call compromising positions. And, a federal judge recently ruled that the pictures of the buxom blonde are protected by the First Amendment, therefore, her sometimes over-protective parent, toy manufacturer Mattel, can do nothing to stop them.

U.S. District Judge Ronald Lew, dismissed Mattel’s copyright infringement lawsuit against Tom Forsythe, a Utah visual artist who has been producing naked photos of Barbie and friends. He ruled that because the pictures are a parody, they do not infringe on Mattel’s copyright and the toy manufacturer failed to prove it would suffer economically because of consumer confusion.

The Southern California Chapter of the ACLU helped to represent Mr. Forsythe in the case, and the group claims a "slam-dunk" victory for the First Amendment. "The court made clear that Mattel cannot use the legal system to silence artists who wan t to comment on and parody Mattel’s products," said Peter Eliasburg.

In a form of social commentary, Mr. Forsythe used the plastic dolls in a series of controversial photos entitled "Food Chain Barbie" in an attempt to criticize what he says is "Barbie’s embodiment of America’s culture of consumption and conformism." He posed the naked dolls in blenders, frying in a wok, skewered on fondue sticks, in martini glasses, wrapped in tortilla shells, and with other household appliances. And, yes, some of the photos are sexually explicit. Mr. Forsythe put his photos into a travelling exhibit and sold them as postcards and prints.

The California-based toy maker cried foul and filed a lawsuit against Mr. Forsythe, asking the court to force him to stop selling his artwork. Mattel argued that the use of the beloved and ageless plastic princess in Mr. Forsythe’s photographs diluted the copyright and caused confusion among consumers. "Mattel is very disappointed that Judge Lew failed to take into consideration that consumers do not view Mr. Forsythe’s photographs as art or as parody and that a substantial number are confused into thinking that Mattel sponsors his goods," Mattel said in a company-issued statement.

Mattel’s zealous protection of the Barbie trademark is legendary. This is one of the few cases where Mattel has found itself on the losing side in the courtroom. The company has vowed to appeal the case.

2001
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