Friday, May 28, 2010

When iconic legos come alive ...

Dear Rich: For the past year or so I have been working on photographs that I am now planning to put into a book. However in some of the photos I quite clearly display products and trademarks and am just wondering about the legal aspect of doing so. An article online referenced a case that Mattel brought against an artist who had used Barbie dolls in what they described as 'unflattering positions.' I should probably add as well that I am in Ireland, so I'm not sure if you would know about the law here although I believe that our trademark law comes from the European Union. I think the attached picture may be a good representation as for me it contains several trademarks: Rizla papers, Golden Virginia tobacco (although you can't see the name), and I wasn't sure if the Lego men themselves would be considered a trademark as they are quite recognisable. Another concern I have about this particular picture is that it has a child's toy engaged in an adult activity. However I realise that this is a separate matter entirely. Thanks for reading our blog in Ireland. We would put a pin in our map except that all our maps are online and we don't want to poke a hole in our monitor. By the way, before we start blabbering on about legal rights, have you seen this short film? We have the feeling that if these talented French artists can get away with this type of logo-exploitation (and win an Academy Award), your work should have no problems. As for your use of Legos, some artists have made a whole career out of those little bricks  without any legal issues arising. So we're feeling good about your use, as well.
European lawThe Dear Rich Staff is not familiar with Irish law although we do have a limited knowledge of the trademark laws that apply to the European Union. For the most part, the same principles apply in the U.S. and Europe, and both sets of laws recognize limited rights for free speech and parody.
Barbie's case. You are correct about the Barbie doll case. Although the artist prevailed, one should also be mindful that the lawsuit lasted for years and cost hundreds of thousands of dollars. Mattel has a litigious and slightly cantankerous reputation so as a general rule, it's probably best to avoid placing Barbie in compromising positions.