Law School Case Brief
Mattel Inc. v. Walking Mt. Prods. - 353 F.3d 792 (9th Cir. 2003)
The limited purpose of trademark protections set forth in the Lanham Trade-Mark Act, 15 U.S.C.S. § 1051 et seq., is to avoid confusion in the marketplace by allowing a trademark owner to prevent others from duping consumers into buying a product they mistakenly believe is sponsored by the trademark owner. Trademark law aims to protect trademark owners from a false perception that they are associated with or endorse a product. Generally, to assess whether a defendant has infringed on a plaintiff's trademark, the court applies a likelihood of confusion test that asks whether use of the plaintiff's trademark by the defendant is likely to cause confusion or to cause mistake, or to deceive as to the affiliation, connection or association of the two products.
Plaintiff Mattel Corporation filed a complaint to prohibit Defendant artist Thomas Forsythe from producing and selling photographs containing Mattel's "Barbie" doll. Most of Forsythe's photos portray a nude Barbie in danger of being attacked by vintage household appliances. Mattel argues that his photos infringe on their copyrights, trademarks, and trade dress. The United States District Court for the Central District of California granted summary judgment in favor of defendant artist. Mattel appealed.
Did the district court err when it held that Forsythe's use of Mattel's copyrighted work was fair use?
The appellate court agreed with the district court that no triable issues of fact existed on whether defendant's use of plaintiff's product constituted fair use. Weighing the four § 107 fair use factors, the court concluded that defendant's use of the product constituted fair use and affirmed the district court's grant of summary judgment. Addressing plaintiff's trademark claims, the court found that defendant's use of the product qualified as nominative fair use. All three elements weighed in favor of defendant, and defendant used only so much as was necessary to make his parodic use of the product readily identifiable.
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