Barbie in Bondage: What Orly Lobel’s Book “You Don’t Own Me: How Mattel v. MGA Entertainment Exposed Barbie’s Dark Side” Tells Us About the Commoditization of the Female BodyAnn Bartow*Article - Fordham Intellectual Property, Media & Entertainment Law Journal
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Barbie in Bondage: What Orly Lobel’s Book “You Don’t Own Me: How Mattel v. MGA Entertainment Exposed Barbie’s Dark Side” Tells Us About the Commoditization of the Female Body
Ann Bartow*
Article

  The full text of this Article may be found here.

29 Fordham Intell. Prop. Media & Ent. L.J. 435 (2019).

Article by Ann Bartow

FIRST PAGE

 

You Don’t Own Me is a terrific title for Orly Lobel’s recently published book. It very succinctly makes the point that Barbie cannot be owned, at least not the way that Mattel, Inc. wishes. Barbie was derived from another doll which had origins outside of Mattel. Mattel’s innovation was to take an intentionally eroticized doll intended as a sex toy for male adults, tone down the sexuality somewhat, and then market it primarily to female children, with a host of compatible outfits and accessories. It was a brilliant idea, but not one that cannot be fully locked up with copyrights or trademarks. When MGA Entertainment began taking market share away from Mattel by offering Bratz dolls that provided enhanced sex appeal combined with more racial diversity, Mattel unsuccessfully tried to litigate Barbie back into dominance. Mattel learned that it simply did not own the Barbie concept as broadly, or
as comprehensively, as it wished it could.

 

Lobel’s story of Mattel’s intellectual property based litigation campaign to “protect” Barbie from artists, musicians, and Bratz dolls demonstrates the sexism that infuses the toy industry, and depicts an inconsistent societal uneasiness about sexualized toys intended for children. This review essay reflects upon two of the central claims of You Don’t Own Me: first, that when companies put their energy and resources into intellectual property litigation rather than innovation, it is a strategy that is likely to fail; and second, that Barbie is a “lead icon” in the disconnect between women pushing for gender equality and those who prefer traditional gender roles for women.


*Professor of Law and Director of the Franklin Pierce Center for Intellectual Property at the University of New Hampshire School of Law. The author would like to thank UNH Law Dean Megan Carpenter for her leadership and support for legal scholarship, Marcy Pearson for editing assistance, and Orly Lobel for writing her wonderful book. This Essay is dedicated to Casey Bartow-McKenney.