S Is For Streisand: Sesame Street Decides To Offer Free Promotion To R-Rated Muppet Satire By Filing Trademark Claim

from the no-infringement,-all-trademark dept

If you’re of a certain age, then you will remember fondly Sesame Street, the educational programming once found on public broadcasting and now relegated to those with HBO subscriptions. The series dedicated its time to teaching children their letters and numbers, how to navigate childhood, and, above all, how to be kind to one another.

The Happytime Murders, an R-rated film from the warped mind of Melissa McCarthy, which also has puppets at its center, is not Sesame Street. It features drug use, vulgar language, violence, sex, and the kind of anti-PC humor more akin to South Park than anything appearing on Sesame Street. To that end, it has used a tagline in its marketing material that reads “No Sesame. All Street.” It specifically sets itself apart from the famed children’s show, which is what made it somewhat odd that Sesame Workshop attempted to get a restraining order against The Happytime Murders over trademark concerns.

According to Sesame’s application for a temporary restraining order, “Defendants’ widely-distributed marketing campaign features a just-released trailer with explicit, profane, drug-using, misogynistic, violent, copulating, and even ejaculating puppets, along with the tagline ‘NO SESAME. ALL STREET.’ Defendants do not own, control or have any right to use the SESAME STREET mark. Instead, they are distributing a trailer that deliberately confuses consumers into mistakenly believing that Sesame is associated with, has allowed, or has even endorsed or produced the movie and tarnishes Sesame’s brand.”

Readers of this site will recognize how absurd this all is from the get go. Nothing in the marketing material or tagline suggests that Sesame Street is in any way connected to The Happytime Murders. In fact, the exact opposite impression was the entire goal here, and it is a goal certainly achieved. The whole point of the tagline is that this new movie is not connected with Sesame Street. This sort of use, particularly given that the use didn’t actually use the full trademark consecutively, is widely accepted as either fair use or simply non-infringing. Meanwhile, of course, the actions of the Sesame Street people essentially has served as free and wonderful advertising for The Happytime Murders. What Sesame’s legal team was thinking with all of this is beyond me.

But the law was not beyond the judge that heard each side’s oral arguments. The TRO request was denied, with the judge stating flatly that there was no public confusion Sesame Street could point to in any of this. Not willing to lose out on the continued publicity, The Happytime Murders trotted out its puppet lawyer, Fred esq., to comment on the ruling.

“We fluffing love Sesame Street and we’re obviously very pleased that the ruling reinforced what STX’s intention was from the beginning — to honor the heritage of The Jim Henson Company’s previous award-winning creations while drawing a clear distinction between any Muppets or Sesame Street characters and the new world Brian Henson and team created. We believe we accomplished this with the very straightforward NO SESAME, ALL STREET tagline. We look forward to continued happytimes as we prepare to release Happytime Murders this summer.”

Meanwhile, it would be nice if the lawyers behind a notable childhood staple of a television show would cease fluffing with the work of other artists.

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Companies: sesame workshop

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Comments on “S Is For Streisand: Sesame Street Decides To Offer Free Promotion To R-Rated Muppet Satire By Filing Trademark Claim”

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28 Comments
Anonymous Coward says:

puppet trademarks

A key question is, who owns the trademarks on those muppet characters that became synonymous with Sesame Street? Since this movie is being done by the Jim Henson Company, even if they used the identical Sesame Street characters and not just similar-looking ones, Sesame Street Inc. might not have a legal leg to stand on.

Anonymous Coward says:

Re: puppet trademarks

They seem to be claiming that any puppet made using the same techniques as muppet characters are automatically covered by their trademark. None of the puppets used in the trailer are Sesame Street characters. This screams “F is for Frivolous Lawsuit” to me.

Bergman (profile) says:

Re: puppet trademarks

Sesame Workshop is basically claiming that anyone using their favorite artistic medium — that they didn’t invent — is somehow infringing upon their rights.

By the same logic, if you sculpt a marble statue using a hammer and chisels, you could then sue anyone who also made a marble sculpture using a hammer and chisels, even if the first statue is of an elephant and the second guy likes to sculpt trees.

Anonymous Coward says:

Normally I agree in attempts to cover up something. But I don’t think Sesame Streets goal was to cover anything up but instead to make it known they don’t support the movie at all. While there is likely no standing, at least everyone now knows that Sesame Street is in no way supporting the movie.

That One Guy (profile) says:

Re: Re:

Pretty sure anyone who thought that they supported it before would be too stupid to have turned on the computer to watch it in the first place and get confused.

However, even assuming people that stupid exist(I’m sure they do), the legal system is not there for PR purposes. They could have easily put out a statement making it clear that no, they are in no way involved in, or support the content of, The Happytime Murders without abusing the legal system in the process.

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