Mattel v. MCA Records

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Mattel v. MCA Records
US-CourtOfAppeals-9thCircuit-Seal.svg
Court United States Court of Appeals for the Ninth Circuit
Full case name Mattel, Inc. v. MCA Records, Inc.
Argued December 5 2000
Decided July 24 2002
Citation(s) 296 F.3d 894 (9th Cir. 2002)
Case history
Prior action(s) Appeal from C.D. Cal. (28 F.Supp.2d 1120)
Subsequent action(s) Request for certiorari, S.Ct.; denied (537 U.S. 1171).
Holding
Barbie Girl is protected as a parody under the trademark doctrine of nominative use and under the First Amendment to the U.S. Constitution.
Court membership
Judge(s) sitting Dorothy Nelson, Melvin Brunetti, Alex Kozinski
Case opinions
Majority Kozinski, joined by unanimous court
Laws applied
U.S. Const. amend I; Lanham Act (15 U.S.C. § 1051 et seq)

Mattel v. MCA Records, 296 F.3d 894 (9th Cir. 2002), was a series of lawsuits between Mattel and MCA Records that resulted from the 1997 Aqua song, "Barbie Girl". The case was ultimately dismissed.

Background[edit]

In December 2000, Mattel sued MCA Records, the recording company of Aqua, saying the song violated the Barbie trademark and turned Barbie into a sex object, referring to her as a "Blonde Bimbo."[1] They alleged the song had violated their copyrights and trademarks of Barbie, and that its lyrics had tarnished the reputation of their trademark and impinged on their marketing plan. Mattel also claimed that the cover packaging of the single used "Barbie pink", a trademarked color owned by Mattel.[2] Aqua claimed that Mattel injected their own meanings into the song's lyrics and MCA Records was not about to let their hit single be suppressed without a fight. They contested Mattel's claims and countersued for defamation after Mattel had likened MCA to a bank robber.[3]

The lawsuit filed by Mattel was dismissed by the lower courts, and this dismissal was upheld, though Mattel took their case up to the Supreme Court of the United States (Mattel's appeal was later rejected). In 2002, Judge Alex Kozinski ruled the song was protected as a parody under the trademark doctrine of nominative use and the First Amendment to the United States Constitution. He also threw out the defamation lawsuit that Aqua's record company filed against Mattel. Kozinski concluded his ruling by saying, "The parties are advised to chill."[4][5] The case was dismissed.

Earlier, in February 2001, a court ruled that an American artist Tom Forsythe was within his rights to use Barbie dolls in his work. Some of Tom Forsythe's photographs depicted the doll in sexually compromising positions.[5] A court had ruled on that occasion too that parody of Barbie was an acceptable activity.

Response[edit]

This controversy was used by journalist Naomi Klein to make a political point in her book No Logo, where she stated that the monopolies created by copyrights and trademarks are unfairly and differently enforced based on the legal budgets of the conflicting parties and their ability to defend their expressions by hiring lawyers.

Judge Alex Kozinski, writing for the panel, opened the opinion by saying:

If this were a sci-fi melodrama, it might be called Speech-Zilla meets Trademark Kong.[4]

Despite the lawsuit, Mattel released a promotional music video of the song (with modified lyrics) on the official Barbie web site in 2009,[6] as part of a new marketing strategy brought in to revive sales.[7] In addition, recent Barbie product commercials have used modified lyrics to the tune of the original song.

References[edit]

  1. ^ "Aqua Now Faces Lawsuit Over "Barbie Girl"". MTV News. 12 September 1997. Archived from the original on 2007-06-10. Retrieved 2007-08-08. 
  2. ^ "Cover Midge's Ears. Mattel Isn't Happy With The Racy Lyrics From A Danish Band.". Orlando Sentinel. 17 September 1997. Retrieved 2012-02-26. 
  3. ^ "Supreme Court rejects ugly fight over Barbie doll". CNN.com. 27 January 2003. Archived from the original on 2007-03-27. Retrieved 2007-08-08. 
  4. ^ a b Mattel, Inc. v. MCA Records, Inc., 296 F.3d 894 (9th Cir. 2002).
  5. ^ a b "Barbie loses battle over bimbo image". BBC News. 25 July 2002. Retrieved 2007-08-08. 
  6. ^ "Official Barbie Web Site". Mattel. Retrieved 2009-09-04. 
  7. ^ Elliott, Stuart (26 August 2009). "Years Later, Mattel Embraces Barbie Girl". New York Times. Retrieved 2010-07-11.