How Can There Be Unauthorized Playing With Toys?

from the where-are-the-lawyer-toys? dept

Playmobil makes plastic toy people figures. You'd probably recognize them if you saw them. I know I had a bunch as a kid. Anyway, according to the company, you can violate its intellectual property by playing with them (and then photographing the results) in an unauthorized manner. No, seriously. Ramon Casha alerts us to the news of a series of lawsuits in Malta against people for trying to sell the plastic people figures set up in an unauthorized manner. Now, there is a separate issue here. Apparently, Playmobil has at least some of these plastic people assembled in Malta, and part of the issue was people somehow getting access to stolen bags of Playmobil people parts and selling them. In that case, it's fine to charge people with theft, if there's evidence that they stole.

However, the lawsuits seem to target the people who took these toys and set them up in an "unauthorized" manner (such as depicting violent scenes) and charge them with intellectual property infringement. That seems a lot more difficult to accept. Assuming that the figures had been purchased legally, and then the owner created these same scenes and tried to sell them on eBay, would Playmobil still have a case? How can the company presume to tell people how they can or cannot set up the toys in their possession?


Reader Comments (rss)

(Flattened / Threaded)

  1.  
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    Matt Tate (profile), Jun 19th, 2009 @ 7:41am

    Why do they...

    Why does the RIAA call infringers thieves, but Playmobil charges thieves with infringement?

     

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  2.  
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    Anonymous Coward, Jun 19th, 2009 @ 7:53am

    Re: Why do they...

    clever :)

     

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  3.  
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    Rob R. (profile), Jun 19th, 2009 @ 8:00am

    How can the company presume to tell people how they can or cannot set up the toys in their possession?

    They cannot. Not with any sanity, anyhow. That's like Braun suing me for using my razor to shave my wife's legs and use a picture of that to try to sell the razor used. Once I buy it, I can do anything with it I want because it is now my property.

     

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  4.  
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    John Duncan Yoyo (profile), Jun 19th, 2009 @ 8:04am

    How much farther than Playmobil did they go? Playmobil has a winebar set that it sells in the UK.

    http://www.delongwine.com/news/2009/03/31/playmobil-wine-bar/

     

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  5.  
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    Anonymous Coward, Jun 19th, 2009 @ 8:22am

    Legal standards

    It does take a certain chutzpah to assume that all the world's IP and ownership laws resemble those of the US.

     

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  6.  
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    Kevin (profile), Jun 19th, 2009 @ 8:46am

    Re: John

    Take a look at the date on that article. They expect everyone to read it the next day.

     

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  7.  
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    tack, Jun 19th, 2009 @ 8:48am

    I remember getting those when i was a kid. Man, I hated them and was mad that I didnt get legos.

     

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  8.  
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    ANDRE, Jun 19th, 2009 @ 8:59am

    most of you dont know were Malta is

     

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  9.  
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    Chronno S. Trigger (profile), Jun 19th, 2009 @ 9:05am

    Re: Legal standards

    No, I don't know the copyright laws in Malta. Since it appears that you do know I'll ask you this: Copyright is super strict there (to the point of not being able to take a picture of the product you own) yet theft is OK?

     

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  10.  
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    AudibleNod, Jun 19th, 2009 @ 9:23am

    Barbie had the same (sort of) problem

    Barbie was posed and photographed by and Artist who was later sued for infringement. The artist won on first amendment grounds, parody. I think this would apply directly, if it were in America.

    http://www.firstamendmentcenter.org/news.aspx?id=12402

     

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  11.  
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    ChurchHatesTucker (profile), Jun 19th, 2009 @ 9:25am

    Re:

    "most of you dont know were Malta is"

    It's where the falcon is from, of course.

     

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  12.  
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    Nick, Jun 19th, 2009 @ 9:29am

    Unauthorized Playing???

    Didn't the Economist do a load of Playmobile Stills... Does that count as unauthorized...? Do you think they will be sued?

     

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  13.  
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    RD, Jun 19th, 2009 @ 9:33am

    Malta

    "most of you dont know were Malta is"

    It's near where cretins live...

     

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  14.  
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    AudibleNod, Jun 19th, 2009 @ 9:34am

    Re:

    Popeye was filmed there.

     

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  15.  
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    Valkor, Jun 19th, 2009 @ 10:11am

    Re: Malta

    Close, but not quite. Check your etymology.
    http://www.etymonline.com/index.php?search=cretin&searchmode=none

     

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  16.  
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    Dirk, Jun 19th, 2009 @ 11:00am

    Intellectual Property

    The scary part about this is that when this kind of thing goes to trial, anyone involved that hears "Intellectual Property infringement" or "Copyright infringement" automatically surrenders all form of common sense/logic and will support any outlandish claims without really thinking very hard about the implications. It happens every day, just look at what the RIAA is doing with Jamie Thomas case.

    http://techdirt.com/articles/20090618/1950315285.shtml
    The value of 24 songs does not equal 1.9 million dollars. They should make her pay 24 dollars for the mp3's which she should have gotten off of Amazon with a small fine and send her on her way.

    Greed is a powerful thing.

     

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  17.  
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    Vic, Jun 19th, 2009 @ 11:07am

    Quite in line with everything else.

    OK, finally it starts to shape up as it should be! If you buy a movie and you cannot share it with a friend, if you buy a book and cannot read it out loud to several kids, if you go hiking and cannot sing songs at the campfire - logically then if you bought a toy you cannot lend it to anybody! I am not even talking about taking pictures of them set in any way. No, really, it makes total sense! RIAA and MPAA started that, every reasonable industry must follow now!

    The US Congress should immediately pass a new law (to be in line with international community, of course!) about sharing toys, razors, dinnerware, etc as well as taking pictures of such (all) things.

     

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  18.  
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    Danny (profile), Jun 19th, 2009 @ 11:07am

    Streisand Effect

    This company is just asking for a whole bunch of photos of erotic posing their toys.

    They have no idea what they are bringing on to themselves.

     

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  19.  
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    Joe, Jun 19th, 2009 @ 11:45am

    Not unauthorized

    When I showed a movie to the makers of the Barbie doll what I was doing with their's, they didn't say it was unauthorized. They said it was abhorrent and that the makers of Gumby and Pokey might complain too.

     

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  20.  
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    known coward (profile), Jun 19th, 2009 @ 12:39pm

    So i guess

    Playmobile gang bangers are out too?

     

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  21.  
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    Anonymous Coward, Jun 19th, 2009 @ 12:44pm

    "How can the company presume to tell people how they can or cannot set up the toys in their possession?"

    Nope, you can do anything you want with things in your possession - but when you show them off in public, or attempt to profit from them in a way that is negative to the product, you may have crossed a line.

    It would sort of be like turning spam into something that look like dog droppings, and selling it with the SPAM name. At some point, a line is crossed.

     

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  22.  
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    Chris, Jun 19th, 2009 @ 1:04pm

    Re: #22

    "
    "How can the company presume to tell people how they can or cannot set up the toys in their possession?"

    Nope, you can do anything you want with things in your possession - but when you show them off in public, or attempt to profit from them in a way that is negative to the product, you may have crossed a line.
    "

    Ummm - I don't think so. I bought it, I can do what the f**k I want with it. I can resell it, I can paint it green and take pictures of it, I can make erotic montages with it.

    The issue here is not "intellectual property", it's physical property. Once a vendor has sold it to me, then they can't tell me what to do with it. I bought it, it's mine! Their right to control the product ended when they sold it to me.

    And as for "turning spam into something that look like dog droppings, and selling it with the SPAM name."

    AFAIK, that would be trademark infringement. You're purporting to sell something that (although it includes SPAM) is not solely SPAM. If you listed SPAM as an ingredient instead, you'd be totally within your rights to do that...

     

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  23.  
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    Vincent Clement (profile), Jun 19th, 2009 @ 3:39pm

    Violent scenes? Playmobil has sets that include cops and robbers, complete with guns. The business world has truly gone insane.

     

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  24.  
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    Vincent Clement (profile), Jun 19th, 2009 @ 3:39pm

    Violent scenes? Playmobil has sets that include cops and robbers, complete with guns. The business world has truly gone insane.

     

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  25.  
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    Lawrence D'Oliveiro, Jun 19th, 2009 @ 3:54pm

    Uh-Oh

    The Register’s in big trouble now ...

     

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  26.  
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    Anonymous Coward, Jun 22nd, 2009 @ 5:25am

    Has anyone here (including Mike) read the article?

    Here is what appears to be the relevant sentence from the article:

    Both Mr Difesa and Ms Cutajar pleaded not guilty to handling stolen property, tampering with Playmobil toy characters without authorisation, circulating the manipulated toys and breaching copyright on the company trademark on and before March.

    Several people have commented along the lines, I bought it, I can do what I want with it. Yes, and no. If you bought the items from someone who acquired the items legitimately, then you can do whatever you wish with them, within limits (more on that in a moment).

    On the other hand, if you bought stolen property, it does not matter whether you thought they were legitimate or not, the property will be confiscated from you, in nearly every country in the world. Even if you were unaware that the property was stolen, in general you are not permitted to retain the possession of stolen property.

    The principal crime throughout this article was the stealing of the toys from Playmobil, as is pointed out several times.

    Now, once the toys were stolen, all sorts of interesting things happened (or appeared to happen, since the article was vague).

    First, the toys were "tampered" with, meaning that the toys were assembled in a way inconsistent with their original intent. If you purchased the toys legally, disassembled them and reassembled them in whatever way you wanted, then there is little Playmobil could do to stop you, UNLESS, you were foolish enough to market the toys using Playmobil's name.

    Since the article CLEARLY states that one of the crimes was a trademark crime, I have to assume that one or more of these foolish people continued to use the name Playmobil in connection with their stolen property. Naughty, naughty. You are permitted to use a trademarked name when you are selling legitimately purchased products produced by a company and resell them. However, if you DISASSEMBLE the products and REASSEMBLE them into a form NOT OFFERED by the company, YOU HAVE NO TRADEMARK RIGHTS. Duh. Even a moron in a hurry should know that.

    Side note: The article says "breaching copyright on the company trademark." I am unsure what that means, because I have never heard that usage before. I thought trademark was trademark and copyright was copyright, and never the twain shall meet. Of course, given the relative ignorance of many reporters regarding intellectual property, it is possible that the reporter got it wrong. Worse, the Playmobil representative may have mischaracterized the offense. Unless Malta somehow mixes the two in their laws.

    So, to the extent this article points out an intellectual property issue, which seems to be a trademark issue, it appears to be the use of a trademark to deceive customers into thinking that the "innovatively" assembled toys were products of Playmobil. Not a very smart move, especially when you stole the parts to make the toys in the first place.

     

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  27.  
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    Hahaha, Jun 25th, 2009 @ 12:37pm

    Re: Re:

    Not really... unfortunately the falcon has not been seen in malta for a long time now.

    fyi, malta is a tiny island south of sicily (i hope you know where THAT is... it's at the tip of italy's booth at the south. ie malta is about in the middle of the mediterranean sea.

     

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