What’s much less well-known is that Barbie maker Mattel tried to sue the band over the music — even trying to take the case to the Supreme Court docket — and that the case ended up contributing to what authorized specialists name an essential precedent associated to free speech.
Within the late Nineteen Nineties, “I’m a Barbie lady, in a Barbie world, life in plastic, it’s implausible,” had been a few of the lyrics lodged contained in the minds of hundreds of thousands of listeners who had been sucked into the sheer quirkiness of the music, with its high-pitched vocals and tongue-in-cheek rhymes. Its obviously pink music video was additionally standard and has, thus far, been seen greater than 1 billion occasions on YouTube.
The music, which describes Barbie as a “blond bimbo lady in a fantasy world,” could have given Mattel free international promoting, however the toy large was not amused. Inside six months of the music’s launch, Mattel launched a lawsuit in opposition to Aqua’s label, MCA Information — a dispute that may find yourself lasting years.
Mattel claimed that lyrics resembling, “Kiss me right here, contact me there, hanky-panky,” had been damaging to Barbie’s repute, and it accused the music group of trademark infringement, unfair competitors and trademark dilution. Amongst its arguments was that, by way of its shiny music video, Aqua infringed on the colour “Barbie pink” and mimicked the doll’s equipment, together with the pink Barbie Dreamhouse.
The band’s label defended the one as “only a enjoyable, humorous pop music” and stated that every one copies of the hit got here with a disclaimer contained in the accompanying CD and cassette tape booklet that knowledgeable listeners the hit “was not created or accepted by the makers of the doll.”
After years of authorized tennis, the case ultimately made it to the U.S. Court docket of Appeals for the ninth Circuit, the place Choose Alex Kozinski wrote in his authorized opinion, “If this had been a sci-fi melodrama, it could be referred to as Speech-Zilla meets Trademark Kong.”
On a extra severe observe, Kozinski dominated in favor of MCA, noting that the music was parody and subsequently protected by the First Modification. However he concluded his opinion with the memorable line, “The events are suggested to relax.”
The courtroom doc itself ends, amusingly, with an appendix displaying the lyrics of “Barbie Woman,” with strains resembling, “Come on, Barbie, let’s go social gathering, ah ah ah, yeah,” and “Oh, I like you, Ken!”
The dismissal was upheld on enchantment, and makes an attempt by Mattel to get the lawsuit heard by the Supreme Court docket were unsuccessful.
Within the years because the lawsuit, members of the European band have spoken of their shock at being sued by Mattel. “The very first thing I assumed was, ‘Wow, the largest toy firm on this planet goes after the little band from Denmark?’” Rene Dif, one of many group’s vocalists, told Rolling Stone in 2022.
In the meantime, lead vocalist Lene Nystrom advised the journal that she thought the lawsuit was “hilarious,” including, “Solely in America.” Different members of the band stated the case fueled publicity for each events.
MCA’s protection was additionally helped by the truth that Barbie was initially impressed by a German intercourse toy referred to as Lilli — serving to the document label’s legal professionals defend in opposition to claims that Aqua had sexualized the doll.
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Whereas the lawsuit — and the choose’s feedback — left many individuals amused, it was additionally an essential case from a trademark perspective, Rebecca Tushnet, a professor of regulation at Harvard, stated in an interview.
At one level, Mattel was “very aggressive in suing parodists and different unauthorized customers” of the Barbie model, Tushnet stated. Its lawsuits included one made in opposition to a British artist who modified Barbie right into a bondage doll, and one other in opposition to an American artist who produced a collection of photographs titled “Meals Chain Barbie,” displaying the dolls positioned inside blenders or skewered over a fondue pot.
“Mattel misplaced all these instances and obtained the message,” Tushnet stated. “These had been essential precedents defending commentary at a time when the web was simply permitting individuals to succeed in bigger audiences with out conventional gatekeepers. Then the ‘Barbie Woman’ case confirmed that conventional, industrial media additionally had the liberty to parody and touch upon well-known emblems.”
Mattel’s argument that folks could possibly be confused about whether or not the corporate had backed Aqua’s hit music additionally had “nothing to do with the core of trademark regulation, which is to permit individuals to know from whom they’re shopping for,” Tushnet stated.
“Everybody knew that the music got here from Aqua,” she stated. “Confusion about whether or not there was some type of permission — or, even worse and extra seemingly, whether or not the regulation mandated that Aqua get permission from Mattel to speak about Barbie — just isn’t dangerous in something like the identical method. Trademark homeowners don’t want and shouldn’t have the suitable to regulate how they’re talked about.”
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Mattel didn’t reply to a request for touch upon the “Barbie Woman” music and subsequent lawsuit.
The corporate ultimately embraced the hit single, utilizing its melody in a 2009 advertisement — however with extra family-friendly lyrics.
And if there’s any doubt over the longevity of the “Barbie Woman” music, or the truth that Mattel has come round, look no additional than the upcoming film “Barbie,” the place a brand new model of the music — that includes Aqua, Nicki Minaj and Ice Spice — is featured on the soundtrack. So plainly “Barbie Woman” could wind up amusing — or annoying — yet one more technology.