EFF & Jurassic Snark v. Barney’s Lawyers

The Electronic Frontier Foundation just couldn’t resist.

In a lawsuit filed in federal court in New York last week over Barney the dinosaur, the San Francisco nonprofit threw a pointed punch at the company that has claimed copyright ownership of the children’s TV character. Then, the EFF took a swipe at Barney’s lawyers.

According to the complaint and publicity information put out by EFF, the nonprofit’s client, Stuart Frankel, has been using his Web site to make fun of Barney since 1998. Since he’s sporadically received cease-and-desist letters demanding that he stop using copyrighted Barney images, EFF wants a court to declare that Frankel’s rants about the dinosaur — and the pictures he uses to illustrate them — constitute fair use because they’re parody.

It appears EFF couldn’t resist testing its own legal theory: It announced the lawsuit on its Web site right alongside a big picture of Barney. Wearing boxing gloves. (Whether Barney has ever actually appeared like that in an episode, Legal Pad couldn’t say. The editor with the young kids is on vacation.) The plaintiff’s announcement then goes on to refer to “Barney’s lawyers’ prehistoric understanding” of copyright and trademark laws. Ouch.

The complaint itself (.pdf) is mildly entertaining, if only for illustrating the odd corners of the world in which intellectual property disputes can arise. To drive home the point that Mr. Frankel’s site is not commercial, EFF notes the other kinds of topics he likes to get into on his Web site: how to build a clavichord; recipes by a Javanese musician; and Frankel’s own dissertation. They apparently forgot to mention his interest in Spanish Baroque organ music.

Pam Smith

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