High court refuses Barbie doll case

Tuesday, January 28, 2003

WASHINGTON -- Toymaker Mattel lost a Supreme Court appeal Monday over a mocking pop song that called the iconic fashion doll Barbie a "blonde bimbo."

The high court did not comment in turning down Mattel's request to reopen a trademark fight over the 1997 dance hit "Barbie Girl." Mattel claims preteen girls who buy Barbie dolls were duped into thinking the song was an advertisement for the doll.

The song, by a Danish group called Aqua, includes the lyrics, "I'm a blonde bimbo in a fantasy world/Dress me up, make it tight, I'm your dolly."

Ad materials for the song used the same electric pink that Mattel has used to package Barbie dolls for decades, lawyers for Mattel claimed.

MCA sold an estimated 1.4 million copies of the recording. The music company calls the song a parody protected by the First Amendment.

Mattel lost in lower courts, and the five-year tussle has gotten ugly. MCA sued Mattel for defamation after the toymaker likened the record firm to a bank robber.

Last year the California-based 9th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals rejected the notion that consumers were misled by the song, noting that a painting of a can of Campbell's Soup does not make viewers think Campbell's "has branched into the art business."

Appeals Judge Alex Kozinski, known for colorful language, toyed with the two companies a bit. He noted that the original 1950s Barbie resembled a "German street walker," but was gradually transformed into a long-legged American with a "fictitious figure."

"With fame often comes unwanted attention," Kozinski wrote for a three-judge appeals panel. He closed his written opinion with a warning to both companies to play nice. "The parties are advised to chill," he wrote.

Mattel contended the appeals court rejected the reasoning of other courts in similar cases and ignored evidence that consumers were confused.

The case is Mattel Inc. v. MCA Records Inc., 01-633.

Also Monday, the Supreme Court:

-- Rejected a challenge to an executive order issued by President Bush that unions say violated federal labor law. The 2001 order banned some kinds of master labor agreements that set wages, benefits and hiring conditions before work begins on massive government construction projects.

-- Refused to consider whether it's unconstitutional to require jurors in federal trials in Puerto Rico to speak English. The court turned down appeals by two men convicted of conspiring to steal U.S. funds meant for AIDS patients.

The two were tried in federal court in Puerto Rico, which requires jurors to read, write, speak and understand English.


On the Net:

Supreme Court: http://www.supremecourtus.gov

Mattel: http://www.mattel.com

MCA: http://mcarecords.com

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