New York Times

Mattel Sues Publisher Over Barbie Essays

LOS ANGELES -- Mattel, the maker of the Barbie doll, is suing the publishers of "Adios, Barbie," a collection of essays by female writers about body image and self-esteem.

But the suit, filed in federal court here last week, does not accuse Seal Press, a Seattle publishing house, of running the doll's good name through the mud. Rather, it charges that the publisher infringed on Mattel's trademark by using Barbie's hairbrush, high heel, dress and foot in the cover illustration. It accuses Seal, book distributors and other companies involved with the book of trading on Barbie's recognition, even though only one of the 26 essays -- "Klaus Barbie, and Other Dolls I'd Like to See," referring to the Nazi war criminal -- talks about the doll's impact on culture and image.

Barbie's unlikely physical attributes have made her a target of criticism from many feminist thinkers who say the doll is symbolic of a culture that sets up unrealistic physical expectations for young girls and celebrates appearance over achievement. The book, published a year ago, has sold about 10,500 copies, according to Seal Press. Mattel, based in El Segundo, Calif., has taken an aggressive legal stance in protecting its trademarks that has pitted it against its fans as well as its critics. The publisher of Seal Press, Faith Conlon, said the suit was "without merit."

"I find it astonishing that we're being sued for a book that's an educational work intended to empower young women and help them develop a more positive self-image," Ms. Conlon said. "The authors' contention is that women must be able to define beauty on their own terms. The women writing in the book are challenging culture's beauty standard, and coming up with a definition that makes them feel more positive about themselves."

Douglas Mirell, a lawyer who specializes in First Amendment and intellectual property defense, said trademark law leaves breathing room for comment on social issues. "This is not a situation where Mattel is selling Barbies and Company X is selling Bambies," Mirell said. "One is a book; one is a doll." Mattel representatives did not return calls seeking comment.(Christian Berthelsen)