The U.S. Supreme Court rejected on Monday an appeal by Mattel Inc. over its lawsuit against MCA Records Inc. claiming the 1997 pop hit “Barbie Girl” had infringed on the toy maker’s doll trademark.
Without comment, the justices let stand a federal appeals court ruling dismissing the lawsuit on the ground the song by the Danish band “Aqua” was parody and social commentary covered by the U.S. Constitution’s free-speech protections.
Mattel, the world’s largest toy maker which has made the doll since 1959, sued MCA Records, its parent and other units of Universal Music, a subsidiary of French media giant Vivendi Universal. MCA produced, marketed and sold “Barbie Girl.”
The song featured a doll-like female voice impersonating Barbie, calling herself a “blonde bimbo girl” and saying “life in plastic, it’s fantastic.” A male singer, who called himself Ken, exhorted Barbie to “go party.”
Mattel, based in El Segundo, California, argued the song, which sold more than 1.4 million copies in the United States, could confuse consumers and dilute the power of the Barbie brand.
MCA defended the song as “social commentary,” saying the album “Aquarium” that included the song also featured a disclaimer noting the song was not sanctioned by the maker of Barbie dolls.
Mattel appealed to the Supreme Court. It said the appeals court cast aside the command of Congress in the Lanham Act to protect consumers against unauthorized use of trademarks in ways likely to cause confusion.
MCA replied that the appeal should be denied, saying it had “put out a classic form of parody in a light-hearted pop song that poked fun at one of the most famous and ubiquitous ‘cultural icons’ in the world.”
The appeals court and a federal judge in California determined the song’s title was not misleading and that consumers would not be confused, MCA told the justices.