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Barbie song appeal strikes an off note for high court

By Bill Mears
CNN Washington Bureau

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WASHINGTON (CNN) -- The Supreme Court rejected a chance Monday to delve into the world of pop music and pop culture, declining to hear a trademark case involving a song about the perky blonde Barbie doll.

The justices refused to hear a complaint from the maker of the doll, claiming lyrics in a pop song hurt Barbie's image and the marketing of what the company calls "one of the most successful brands in history."

The song, by a Danish group called Aqua, includes the lyrics, "I'm a blonde bimbo in a fantasy world/Dress me up, make it tight, I'm your doll."

Aqua's record company, MCA, says the song and album sold about 1.1 million copies, and it was a top 40 hit in the U.S. and Europe. The group disbanded in August 2001. Lawyers for the label claim the song is a parody protected by Constitution's guarantee of free speech and expression.

But toy company Mattel claimed in court the song lyrics "associate sexual and other unsavory themes with Mattel's Barbie products." Mattel's attorneys claimed children would be confused, believing the song was somehow linked to the actual Barbie doll, which the company says "encourages girls to be anything they want."

Mattel also alleged MCA marketed the song at children. In a trademark dilution lawsuit, Mattel sought monetary damages. MCA later countersued.

A federal district judge had ruled for the recordmaker, saying, "Even if the song were considered vulgar as Mattel purports, it is a parody of the 'party girl' image Barbie may already have among some members of the general public. Absent stronger evidence that the song actually tarnishes Barbie's image, plaintiff is unlikely to succeed on its trademark dilution claims."

An appeals court agreed, with Judge Alex Kozinski saying, "With fame often comes unwanted attention." Noting the often bitter tone taken by companies in this five-year legal battle, Kozinski ordered both sides to behave. "The parties are advised to chill," he said in his ruling.

The case is Mattel v. MCA Records, No. 02-0633.

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