Barbie Girl Sued by Barbie Doll
Do you remember the band Aqua from their heyday in the late 90s and early 2000s? They are still rather popular, and they have some truly infectious songs that get stuck in your head and just won’t leave. One of their most popular songs is called “Barbie Girl”, and you’ve probably heard it quite a few times before. In fact, it’s probably playing in your head right now since it’s been invoked. It’s a fun, silly song, but it has a similarity to a certain pink clad, blonde doll, and you might be wondering how Aqua was able to get away with that song. Well, they almost weren’t, and MCA Records Inc. had a large kerfuffle with Mattel over their song.
The Doll and the Song
Barbie, the doll, has been around since the 1950s, and she was popular almost since her inception. People collect the doll, and many children still love them. Entire aisles in toy stores are pink and dedicated to Barbie. Some people love the doll, and others see it as a problem because of the unrealistic standards that the dolls set for girls and young women.
The Danish band Aqua saw this as an opportunity to parody the doll in a song. They created “Barbie Girl”, which has a strangely addictive pop sound. The song was released in 1997 on the band’s album Aquarius. It was popular. In fact, it became very popular and entered the Top 40 on the charts, and this did not sit well with Mattel. They wanted to protect their brand and trademark, and they felt that the song diminished the doll. They also claimed that the color on the single was Barbie Pink, a color that has been trademarked by Mattel.
Aqua said that Mattel was finding meaning in the song that wasn’t there, and they contested the claims from the toy company. The judge who heard the case, Judge Alex Kozinski, ruled that the song was parody, and that it did not infringe on Mattel’s trademark or copyrights. He threw out the case. He also threw out the lawsuit that MCA Records had filed for defamation. Funnily enough, in his ruling, he concluded by saying, “The parties are advised to chill,” which might be one of the most amusing things a judge has ever written. Of course, he also said at the beginning of his ruling that “If this were a sci-fi melodrama, it might be called Speech-Zilla Meets Trademark Kong,” which is also rather funny.
Over the years, Mattel has seemed to soften on their stance against this song. They’ve released promo videos using modified lyrics of the song on the Barbie website, and they’ve used them in some of the commercials for the doll as well.
Parody is often misunderstood, and that’s where some creators get into trouble. It’s important to make sure that you know the difference between copyright and trademark infringement and parody. Weird Al is a good example of an artist who uses parody to good effect, although he’s been sued unsuccessfully before as well.