Barney licensing company sues to protect clean image

PITTSBURGH (AP) — What? The world’s most popular purple dinosaur is out smoking, drinking and swearing?
That’s what the Lyons Partnership, Barney’s licensing company, fears people are thinking when costume shops rent knockoff costumes of the children’s TV character.
Lyons said it has sued or plans to sue at least 700 costume shops and other retailers in 20 states, charging that dressing like Barney is copyright infringement.
“There have been photographs in newspapers of a person in a bogus Barney costume with the head off smoking a cigarette,” Lyons spokeswoman Kelly Lane said Monday from the company’s offices in suburban Dallas.
Barney, a 6-foot, grinning, green-spotted, purple dinosaur, sings and dances for preschoolers on the top-rated PBS show “Barney and Friends.” About 12 million people see the show each week.
The company has never licensed adult-sized costumes “because we can’t police what the person does,” Lane said.
Official appearances by Barney, outside of a stage show now touring the country, are rare. The company fears that the sight of Barney may cause a frenzy among young fans, even inspiring them to run across streets to hug him.
In 1996, Lyons sued three manufacturers of purple dinosaur costumes; two of those cases have been settled. The third is pending. Lane refused to release details of the settlements.
Lyons also sought to protect Barney’s image in October by filing a copyright and trademark infringement lawsuit against the Famous San Diego Chicken — Ted Giannoulas — for pretending to beat a fake Barney at sporting events.
An attorney for Giannoulas said the parody is protected under the Copyright Act, trademark law and the First Amendment. The case is pending.
Last week, the company went a step further, suing roughly 70 shops, distributors and performers in New Jersey and Pennsylvania in federal court. Lawsuits were also filed in Illinois and Georgia.
Lane declined to disclose in what other states lawsuits have been or will be filed, or say how many lawsuits have been filed so far.
Lyons is seeking damages of at least $100,000 per retailer and a court order that retailers hand over all purple dinosaur costumes. Lyons offered retailers a chance to pay up and avoid the lawsuit, but only “dozens” did so, the company said.
Gary Baldowski, who owns an Eastern Onion franchise in suburban Atlanta, vowed to fight the lawsuit. His workers dress up as characters to deliver messages, sometimes bawdy, at birthday parties and other celebrations.
“I can make a purple dinosaur, but if I make it look like Barney and tell you as a customer we have a Barney, we are in total violation,” he said. “We never ever did that, nor do they have any proof. We are ready to start the battle.”
M. Kelly Tillery, a Philadelphia lawyer for Lyons, scoffed at retailers’ claims that their purple dinosaur costumes were not Barney.
“Who’s kidding whom here? Give me a break,” Tillery said.