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Barbie-in-a-blender artist wins $1.8 million award

Mattel, guardian of Barbie, has lost the latest round of its legal battle with an artist who published a series of photographs showing the popular plastic doll naked, in compromising positions, or stuffed inside ovens, blenders and even a fondue.02 Jul 2004

The company has been ordered to reimburse artist Tom Forsythe the $1.8 million legal costs he incurred during the five-year dispute which began when he published his "Food Chain Barbie" series of photographs in 1999.

"I wasn't expecting this work to even be that controversial. It started out as a riff on plasticisation, on crass consumerism, but when I started to work with the doll I added the dimension of the impossible beauty myth," Forsythe told Reuters.

Mattel sued for copyright infringement, offended by images with titles including "Cutting Board Barbie" and "Barbie Enchiladas". But in December last year, an appeals court deemed the works a parody or satire that could not be blocked by trade mark laws.

Forsythe told Reuters that he was "amazed and truly ecstatic" at the ruling by Los Angeles District Court that found Mattel liable for his legal fees.

This is not the first time that Mattel has lost a legal action defending the reputation of Barbie. Last January, the US Supreme Court refused to hear an appeal from the company which had sued over Danish pop group Aqua's 1997 hit Barbie Girl. Mattel had argued that the song infringed its trade mark and ruined the doll's image; but record label MCA convinced a judge that it was in fact a humorous commentary on cultural values.