Saturday, January 24, 2009

Ty, Inc. releases 'Marvelous Malia' and 'Sweet Sasha' dolls; will the First Daughters become First Plaintiffs?

Ty, Inc., maker of the popular Beanie Babies dolls, has come out with a new pair of "TyGirlz" dolls: little black girls named "Marvelous Malia" and "Sweet Sasha." Any resemblance to the new First Daughters is entirely coincidental, insists Ty spokeswoman Tania Lundeen, who is now and will forever be known as the Baghdad Bobbie of plush-toy-manufacturer flacks. Reports the AP:

The Oak Brook-based company chose the dolls' names because "they are beautiful names," not because of any resemblance to President Obama's daughters, said spokeswoman Tania Lundeen.

"There's nothing on the dolls that refers to the Obama girls," Lundeen said. "It would not be fair to say they are exact replications of these girls. They are not."

I suppose they are not "exact replications," of Malia and Sasha Obama, but "nothing on the dolls that refers to the Obama girls"? How about their names?

So could Malia and Sasha sue for violations of their rights of publicity? Well, they wouldn't be the first political figures to run to court over a doll. California Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger sued the maker of Arnold "bobblehead" dolls, though the case settled before producing any actual politician doll precedent. In contexts outside pure advertising, right of publicity defendants have an array of defenses available to them, including that the allegedly infringing use is "transformative"; where the plaintiff is a political figure, the First Amendment provides additional defenses. For a real-world example of those defenses in action, read the arguments starting at page 27 of this .pdf.

Will Malia and Sasha really sue? I highly doubt it. But it sure would be interesting to watch Ty -- a famously aggressive protector of its own IP -- defending itself against perhaps the two most sympathetic right of publicity plaintiffs on earth.

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