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Court Tosses Lawsuit Targeting Barbie Lampooner

Court Tosses Lawsuit Targeting Barbie Lampooner

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SAN FRANCISCO (AP) -- A federal appeals court on Monday dismissed a copyright lawsuit Mattel Inc. brought against a Utah artist who shot a photographic series depicting Barbie naked in a blender, wrapped in a tortilla and sizzling on a wok.

The case concerned Tom Forsythe, a self-described "artsurdist" from Kanab, Utah, who used the fashion dolls in a work entitled "Food Chain Barbie" to criticize "America's culture of consumption and conformism." One photo, "Malted Barbie," featured a nude Barbie on a vintage Hamilton Beach malt machine.

The El Segundo-based toy maker sued Forsythe in 1999, alleging copyright infringement and dilution of copyright. Mattel said the pictures, which often showed Barbie posed in sexually provocative positions, could confuse consumers into believing it was behind the works.

A Los Angeles federal judge also had dismissed the suit. Mattel took the case to the San Francisco-based 9th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals, which on Monday agreed with U.S. District Judge Ronald S.W. Lew.

The appeals court said the lawsuit "may have been groundless and unreasonable." In addition, the court said Forsythe had a First Amendment right to lampoon Barbie.

"Mattel cannot use trademark laws to censor all parodies or satires which use its name," Judge Harry Pregerson wrote for the three-judge panel.

Mattel did not return calls seeking comment. Forsythe did not return messages lodged at his Utah residence. He has said he uses Barbies to criticize "the materialistic and gender-oppressive values" he believes the dolls embody.

One of Forsythe's photos, "Barbie Enchiladas," shows four Barbie dolls inside a lit oven, wrapped in tortillas and covered with salsa in a casserole dish. The appeals court said he earned $3,659 selling postcards of his "Food Chain Barbie" series.

Forsythe isn't the only one Mattel has sued over Barbie. In January, the U.S. Supreme Court upheld the right of Danish pop band Aqua to distribute the suggestive 1997 pop song, "Barbie Girl," in which a baby-doll voice proclaims: "I'm a blonde bimbo girl."

Monday's case is Mattel v. Walking Mountain Productions, 01-56696.

(Copyright 2003 by The Associated Press. All Rights Reserved.)

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