Tom Forsythe

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Tom Forsythe
Tom Forsythe
NationalityUnited States
Known forArtist
Notable work
"Food Chain Barbie", "Personal Illusions", "TV Watching", "Random Observations"

Tom Forsythe is an artist and Tai Chi instructor who lives and works in Utah. He is known for his photographic work of Barbie dolls, which caused some controversy resulting from a lawsuit brought against him by Mattel. The company lost the case when the U.S. 9th Circuit Court of Appeals ruled that the images were original artwork in 2004. [1]

Art Work[edit]

Forsythe is known for his famous "Barbie" portraits, portraying Barbie dolls in surprising situations usually without clothes and often juxtaposed with some sort of kitchen or cooking appliance. This line of art is called the "food chain Barbie".[2] In each composition, Forsythe shows the world as seemingly mad: his work has been described as "unappetizing":[1] in the words of judge Pregerson, "In some of Forsythe's photos, Barbie is about to be destroyed or harmed by domestic life in the form of kitchen appliances, yet continues displaying her well known smile, disturbingly oblivious to her predicament".[3]

The main reason behind Forsythe's use of the Barbie is that the doll is seen as an American icon. Forsythe chose to use the dolls in his art because he wanted to attempt to put the sexist idea to rest. When Barbie came out, the doll was supposed to represent beauty and gave a false idea how woman were supposed to look and act.[2]

Marjorie Heins, in her book Will Fair Use Survive, said, "the benefits to the public in allowing such use - allowing artistic freedom and expression and criticism of a cultural icon - are great". She also said "it serves the aims of the Copyright Act by encouraging the very creativity and criticism the act protects."

According to Forsythe, the Barbie represents the idea of “perfection” and how women are supposed to look and act.[2]

Court case[edit]

Forsythe's art theme called “Barbie's power as a beauty myth” attracted legal attention. After displaying his work at art fairs in Utah and Missouri, Mattel Inc. took notice of his use of their copyrighted doll. Mattel objected to the fact that Forsythe had been using the image of their product, and they sued Forsythe in 1999 for copyright and trademark infringement. After several years of appeals, a federal judge instructed Mattel to pay Tom Forsythe legal fees of more than $1.8 million.[4] The 9th Circuit Court ruled that Forsythe's art did not violate 'fair use', which allows use of copyrighted material where the work will be provided to the public. Because of this, they ruled in Forsythe's favor that the Copyright Act applied in the case of his work.[4]


Many artists and feminists were glad to hear that Forsythe had won the case. To them the case made a statement, that copyright is "destructive to the free exchange of ideas".[4] To Forsythe, the case was a victory in the fight for free speech. He felt that he was using a form of art to show how political and social ideals play in our world today.[4]

Forsythe felt that the case taught him a lesson about the US legal system. In his own words,

“From what I’ve learned in the course of defending my very basic free speech rights, this is a fairly standard cost of fighting a legal battle in federal court. It only confirms what I’ve always sensed, that the legal system is little more than a boxing ring for the rich with the common people not even invited to experience the proceedings on pay per view. We may be free to express ourselves, but if that expression involves offending a rapacious corporation, they’re equally free to sue; and unless we have the wherewithal to fight off high powered attorneys, that’s where our free speech ends.”[2]

Current Work[edit]

Tom Forsythe is the owner of the Little Hollywood Museum in Kanab, Utah and has been a Tai Chi instructor for over 20 years. His current work has included setting up an online Tai Chi Class at

External links[edit]


  1. ^ a b Steiner, Christine. "'Lawsuit Barbie' Fails for Mattel". Los Angeles Times. Retrieved 1 February 2014.
  2. ^ a b c d Forsythe, Tom. "A Word From the Artist". Tom Forsythe. Missing or empty |url= (help)
  3. ^ Mattel Inc. v. Walking Mountain Productions (US Court of Appeals for the Ninth Circuit 2003-12-29). Text
  4. ^ a b c d Werde, Bill. "Barbie's Manufacturer Is Ordered to Pay $1.8 Million in Legal Fees to Artist". The New York Times. Missing or empty |url= (help)