Published August 16, 2001
Barbie’s boyfriend, Ken, might not be too happy when he sees some of these pictures.
But neither Ken nor Mattel, the toy company that owns the rights to the world-famous doll, can stop an artist from using them in his photographs under the protection of the First Amendment.
A federal judge has dismissed a lawsuit against Tom Forsythe, a Utah man who uses Mattel's Barbie dolls for what he says is social commentary. U.S. District Court Judge Ronald Lew ruled Forsythe’s rights to free expression held more weight than the company’s trademarks and intellectual property rights as they relate to the 42-year old doll.
Forsythe took the photographs in 1998 and used the dolls in a series of photos titled "Food Chain Barbie," to criticize what he calls "Barbie's embodiment of America's culture of consumption and conformism."
The images depict, among other images, a "Missionary Barbie,'" unclothed on her back, "Barbie Enchiladas," which are naked Barbies wrapped in tortillas, a "Heatwave" Barbie in a toaster oven, a "Malted Barbie," whose head sticks out of a milkshake machine, and "Blue Ice" Barbie, who poses nude in a glass.
Forsythe offers the dolls for sale on his Web site (www.creativefreedomdefense.org), which is subtitled, "Tom Forsythe's Artsurdism." The photos are priced $350 and up.
"My Barbie series of photos critiques the Barbie doll and the shallow, consumerist values fostered and perpetuated by it," Forsythe said in a statement circulated by the American Civil Liberties Union, which backed him in the Mattel suit.
ACLU attorney Peter Eliasberg called the judge's decision "a great victory for artists."
Mattel on Monday issued a statement saying it was "disappointed" the court "failed to consider that consumers and Mattel are being harmed" by the artist's activities. The California-based toy maker said it intends to appeal the court ruling.
This is not the first time Mattel has taken offense to the usage of its prized doll. Two years ago, the company sought $1 billion in damages from an artist who had made some $2,000 by selling modified Barbies as art works. The variations included one doll with platinum hair and black roots entitled, "Trailer Trash Barbie" by the artist.
In that case, the judge granted a partial summary judgment against Mattel "for not having a sense of humor." The case was eventually settled out of court.
The company also unsuccessfully pursued a lawsuit against the pop group "Aqua" over its hit song Barbie Girl, which included the lyrics "I'm a blonde bimbo."
This story is based in part on wire service reports.