a rose by any other name…

or, a study on the idea/expression dichotomy in copyright law as illustrated through flatulent dolls. The interesting decision in JCW Investments v. Novelty, Inc. centers around how copyright can inhere in toy farting dolls:

Somewhat to our surprise, it turns out that there is a niche market for farting dolls, and it is quite lucrative. Tekky Toys, an Illinois corporation, designs and sells a whole line of them. Fred was just the beginning. Fred’s creators, Jamie Wirt and Geoff Bevington, began working on Fred in 1997, and had a finished doll in 1999. They applied for a copyright registration on Fred as a “plush toy with sound,” and received a certificate of copyright on February 5, 2001; later, they assigned the certificate to Tekky. In the meantime, Tekky sent out its first Fred dolls to distributors in 1999. By the time this case arose, in addition to Fred, Tekky’s line of farting plush toys had expanded to Pull My Finger® Frankie (Fred’s blonde, motorcycle-riding cousin), Santa, Freddy Jr., Count Fartula (purple, like the Count on Sesame Street), and Fat Bastard (character licensed from New Line Cinema’s“Austin Powers” movies), among others. By March 2004, Tekky had sold more than 400,000 farting dolls.

400,000! Anyway, on to the actual law part of it. Basically, another company, Novelty, came along and developed a similar doll and the court found them offside:

It is not the idea of a farting, crude man that is protected, but this particular embodiment of that concept. Novelty could have created another plush doll of a middle-aged farting man that would seem nothing like Fred. He could, for example, have a blond mullet and wear flannel, have a nose that is drawn on rather than protruding substantially from the rest of the head, be standing rather than ensconced in an arm-chair, and be wearing shorts rather than blue pants.

Well. Good to know that one can’t own the idea of a farting, crude man – only the particular expression of a farting, crude man.

There was of course also the trademark aspect to it:

The jury found Novelty liable for trademark infringement because Novelty used the words “Pull My Finger” to sell its farting Santa dolls, and this use infringed Novelty’s mark for those words as related to plush dolls.

There you have it. “Pull My Finger” is a trademark.