Respect and Integrity
Case Study: Barbie
Mark Napier created "The Distorted Barbie," a web-art installation
that displayed digitally altered images of Barbie dolls in order to comment
on Barbie as a pop-icon and cultural/commercial symbol. He published it
his own site at Interport and in
the e-zine Enterzone. At a site maintained by Napier admirers, you will
find the following description of Napier's work. "Artist Mark Napier
is the author and creator of The Distorted Barbie, a web-based exploration
in words and images of the impact Barbie and all her baggage have had on
our bodies and culture. The site is a poetic and potent piece of Internet
After discovering the site, Mattel sent strongly-worded cease-and-desist
letters both to Enterzone
and to Interport,
Napier's internet service provider. Why did Mattel send the letter to
Interport and not Napier himself? Should Mattel have any legal claims
against Napier? Enterzone? Interport? What are they?
Christian Crumlish, the editor of Enterzone, paid attention to the progress
of the Napier controversy. For a time, he followed the saga in a nearly
day-to-day account at a site, called "The Daily Barbie." It connected
readers to a site which invited people to join the rebellion by creating
a "meme," that is, mirroring the site faster than legal teams
can ask that it be torn down. The Daily Barbie, and the original rebellion
site are no longer available, and It is not clear who began the meme. The
rebellion continues, though: the meme site is also available at another
location. Will the meme thwart any attempt at enforcement of claims
The creators of the meme ask, "did Brillo sue Warhol?" The implication
is that, because Barbie is such a key thread in the fabric of American (and,
indeed, global) culture, and because the image of barbie is the easiest
and only way of expressing the concept of Barbie, people should be to make
a cultural critique using the Barbie image regardless of the copyright and
trademark issues involved. Is Napier's work, and the action of those who
mirror his site, "fair use?" Should Mattel have any recourse against
those who mirror the site? It is possible that Napier is not involved in
the meme's struggle to save his work: he might even object to the mirroring
of his site. Should he have any recourse against those who mirror and link to his site? For more information on the laws of linking, see the first week's module on Metatags, Linking and Framing.
To what extent does Napier's site differ from fan-'zines and other sites celebrating
Barbie? There are many such sites. Examples include pippa's
site, entitled "The Dolls, The Dish & the Dollars, and baucoms-barbies.
(Mattel maintains its own site as well).
Mattel has brought a suit against Miller'$ Magazine for Barbie Doll Collectors
and Miller'$ Market Report, print-medium publications about doll collecting
and Barbie collecting in particular, and collectors nationwide have had
a partially internet-based response to the Miller's suit. Rebel-collectors
maintain a site dedicated to the "Pink
Anger" movement. The authors of the site urge collectors to maintain
a month-long boycott of Mattel and Barbie. The Miller's suit is not yet
resolved. If Mattel were to sue those who maintain internet 'zines (or
their ISPs), should the outcome be the same as the outcome in the Miller's
case? (see baucom's-barbie's
opinion on this). Should Mattel have any recourse against those who
publicized Pink Anger on the internet?
Would Mattel be able to claim that its "moral
rights" have been violated by Napier or by those who maintain Barbie
collectors' sites? Do fan-'zines always run the risk of violating moral rights?
(see Gary Larson mini-case-study)
Could a system of licensing and "microcharges," whereby web
surfers are charged by site owners for access to sites, and those receipts
are paid to companies whose images are published on the web, solve any of
the problems discussed above? What would be the drawbacks of such a system?
You are encouraged to address the questions raised by this case study, and any questions of your own on the topic of respect and integrity on the internet, in the various discussion groups in the virtual classroom. For more information on the issues raised in this case study, go to the list of legal and nonlegal resources compiled for this subject.
Mattel is very active in protecting Barbie from alleged infringers. for
information on Mattel suits against Nissan and against the band Aqua, click