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Mattel to Pay Artist's Legal Fees After Barbie Battle

June 29, 2004|Dawn Wotapka | Times Staff Writer

In a setback for Barbie, a federal judge has ruled that a Utah artist who photographed the doll posed suggestively with kitchen appliances should be reimbursed for the more than $1.8 million he spent defending his work.

The ruling by the judge last week could end an almost five-year legal tussle between Mattel Inc. and Tom Forsythe and leave other artists free to mock the world's most popular plastic princess.

Mattel, which is based in El Segundo, hasn't decided whether to appeal.

"Our trademarks are our most valuable assets," said spokeswoman Lisa Marie Bongiovanni.

For his part, Forsythe said he was ecstatic.

"This case will make it a lot easier for artists to find attorneys to represent them when they're battered by the bullies," he said by phone from his home studio in Kanab, Utah.

In 1997, Forsythe created 78 photographs he said were intended to ridicule the beauty myth and mindless consumerism. Naked Barbies with unkempt hair were rolled into tortillas; one nude Barbie sat in a blue martini glass.

The most controversial photo showed Barbie with a food mixer blade between her legs.

Mattel sued Forsythe in 1999, calling the photos "crudely sexual and violently misogynistic" and contending that they violated the company's intellectual property rights.

In 2001, U.S. District Judge Ronald S.W. Lew ruled in Forsythe's favor but denied his request for legal fees. Both Mattel and Forsythe appealed.

In December, the 9th Circuit Court of Appeals upheld the decision but directed Lew to reconsider the fees.

In his ruling last week, Lew accused the toy giant of forcing Forsythe into costly litigation. "There was little risk of consumer confusion," he wrote. "Defendant's parodic intent was clear."

Forsythe, a 46-year-old former Los Angeles music writer and script reader, said his 15 minutes of fame hadn't sent sales soaring. The Barbie pictures, he said, aren't "exactly couch-friendly."

Shares of Mattel closed up 2 cents at $18.25 on the New York Stock Exchange.

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