28 June 2004

Barbied Wire

The NYT reports on Judge Lew's fee opinion in one of the numerous Barbie-disparagement cases. Basically, Mattel doesn't want anyone making fun of Barbie, so it has a tendency to sue. And lose. Judge Lew took a dim view of Mattel's efforts regarding one artist:

Plaintiff had access to sophisticated counsel who could have determined that such a suit was objectively unreasonable and frivolous. Instead it appears plaintiff forced defendant into costly litigation to discourage him from using Barbie's image in his artwork. This is just the sort of situation in which this court should award attorneys fees to deter this type of litigation which contravenes the intent of the Copyright Act.

He then ordered Mattel to pay the artist's costs and fees, which will almost certainly exceed $2 million all in.

As someone who represents copyright holders… this is objectively the correct decision. I'd be surprised if it is not appealed—again—but it seems pretty clear that Mattel's lawyers and Fox News's lawyers in the Franken/O'Reilly matter are twins separated at birth. (I'll pause while you purge that horrible thought.) The critical unifying factor in both instances was a WFH copyright holder suing an individual creator for infringement. OK, so the gravamen in Franken/O'Reilly was trademark, but the underlying right of action was based on Fox's WFH copyright in O'Reilly's broadcasts, from which Fox's less-expansive-than-it-thought trademark rights emerged.

Mattel's (and Fox's) actions actually make it harder for individual copyright holders to defend their rights. This kind of nonsense reduces public respect for copyright. And it should: because this aspect of copyright is well beyond the bound of the Intellectual Property Clause. So there.