Barney left without a purple leg to stand on

The Lyons Partnership, owners of the rights to Barney, the famous purple dinosaur for children, has grown increasingly unhappy about the number of web sites devoted to bashing the character. Over the last few years, the partnership's attorneys have sent hundreds of cease and desist letters to sites with names such as 'Barney 666' and 'The Jihad To Destroy Barney'. The partnership claims that the sites unlawfully dilute its trademark in violation of the Federal Trademark Dilution Act.

The partnership's attorneys not only argue that the sites violate their trademark, but also that many of the parody sites violate the partnership's copyright by using the Barney image. As an example of the aggressiveness of the partnership's enforcement activities, a letter was sent to the Electronic Freedom Foundation, a well-respected online free-speech organization, demanding that the foundation delete a 1994 text file in its archives that contains an anti-Barney rant. Thus far, the foundation has not removed the file.

To date, the Lyons Partnership has brought nearly 80 lawsuits against web sites for alleged trademark and copyright infringement. The partnership, however, has had limited success.

William M Heberer, an intellectual property lawyer in the firm of Hall Dickler Kent Goldstein & Wood, believes Barney doesn't have a purple leg to stand on when going after a non-commercial parody site. He points out that the partnership lost a high-profile case against the San Diego Chicken. In that instance, the partnership tried to stop the Chicken from acting out a skit in which he beats up a dinosaur that looks like Barney.

One recipient of a cease and desist letter put its opinion of Lyons Partnership's tactics succinctly: "We have reviewed your letter and found that not only is it about as intellectual as the purple quivering mass of gyrating goo you call Barney, but that it also is demeaning to everyone that visits our web site and reads this worthless attempt and scare tactic."

Douglas Wood and Linda Goldstein, Hall Dickler Kent Goldstein & Wood, New York

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