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Allowed to use things like Barbie dolls on cover?

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DiloKeith

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I arrange dolls in fun poses and post the photographs I take. I don't think there's a problem with it. Can I do this to create a cover for a book I plan to sell? I could arrange the dolls so the brand wouldn't be obvious, e.g., Barbie versus another 12-inch female doll, but people might make an association with a well-known product. It's erotic fiction and while the image would not be intended to reflect negatively on the product, they could take it that way.

I've explored stock photos extensively and might have to create a composite of two or three of them if I can't use the dolls.
 

SBibb

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Depends on the product. I can't offer legal advice, but you might look into information on trademarks, because I know certain toys and products can't be used commercially.

(I think trademark is the word I'm looking for).
 

Alessandra Kelley

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Okay, I've looked up some Mattel lawsuits (and I suggest you research for yourself "Food Chain Barbie" and "Dungeon Barbie").

The gist seems to be that parody is permitted, social commentary on gender roles and violence is permitted, and artworks which are unlikely to be confused with Mattel products are permitted.

However, the commercial use of face-on, recognizable Barbie dolls themselves (as on, say, a book cover), is probably not permitted beyond certain specialty niches, such as doll collector price guides -- and possibly even then permission must be gotten.

My immediate thought was the cover for JT Leroy's The Heart is Deceitful Above All Things (direct link to the cover). JT Leroy/Laura Albert probably had quite the legal team at their back, though.

I note that the doll in that photo has been very carefully placed so that it is impossible to tell whether it is an official Mattel Barbie doll or one of the millions of knock-offs which have been sold over the decades.
 

DiloKeith

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Thanks, everyone.

I think the linked cover might have enough showing to identify the particular doll -- if those boots, for example, are Barbie's. I'd have to make a special effort.
 
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cornflake

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Thanks, everyone.

I think the linked cover might have enough showing to identify the particular doll -- if those boots, for example, are Barbie's. I'd have to make a special effort.

Don't presume that they didn't have permission to use whatever they did.

Put Barbie in a compromising position for a commercial purpose and expect to hear from Mattel's cabal of lawyers.
 

Gale Haut

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Your description sounds like it could be parody. It seems like Most Popular Girls in School gets away with it pretty easily, and I've definitely seen them used on Album covers and books dealing with gender issues.

I'm wondering right now how important it is that it looks like a Barbie product vs a plastic toy version of a perfect woman. Modifying a plastic doll with new clothes and hair might be your best bet ... And it could actually end up being better
 

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I agree with the recommendation to use a knock off barbie doll. The problem that matel and hasbro ran into early on was that they could not get copyrights for their toys because it was deemed that they were based on the human body and that the human body could not be copyrighted. Hasbro solved this problem initially by resculpting the hands of the Gi Joes so that their thumbnails were on the pad of the thumb instead of on top. This gave them enough of a difference between normal anatomy and the doll to pursue a copyright.

It is the same with barbie. Everyone likes to make a big deal about how barbie's anatomical proportions are not possible for a human to actually achieve, and that is the exact point. Matel has to make her that way in order to copyright her.

If you use an actual barbie doll, the face and proportions will give it away instantly unless you heavily modify it. There are a lot of books out there that have barbie doll like figures on them, but you can tell at a glance that they are not barbies. This one for example:

http://www.goodreads.com/book/show/13628184-anatomy-of-a-single-girl

There is nothing about this cover that would be damaging to barbie's image, but the publisher still didn't chance it... and I wouldn't either.

Head to some place like a Dollar General or Big Lots (in the US) where they sell knock offs and use them instead.
 

Jamesaritchie

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This rule never changes. Just don't do it. Never use anything that under copyright or trademark protection without written permission. If you do, you might well lost tens of thousands of dollars in a lawsuit, even if you were right. Lawyers do not come cheap.

And when someone else uses something like this, always assume they had permission. They probably did.

Parody does not mean you can automatically use a trademarked image exactly as it is. By it's very definition, parody means you change something drastically.
 

DiloKeith

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Seems like I should find another way to create a cover, even if I could disguise their identities or find suitable knock-offs.

Thanks, everyone.
 
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