Famous Chicken pummels Barney in trademark suit

Saturday, July 11, 1998

For more than four years, the Famous San Diego Chicken relished the part of his ballpark act in which he thrashes a purple dinosaur who bears some resemblance to a famous PBS kiddie show host.


Recently, the Chicken knocked the real Barney to the mat after a judge decided that the veteran mascot's routine didn't violate federal trademark and copyright laws.


“This case presents parody, pure and simple,” wrote U.S. District Court Judge John McBryde on July 29 in dismissing a complaint from Lyons Partnership, which owns the Barney trademark. In 1988, the U.S. Supreme Court ruled in Hustler Magazine v. Falwell that the First Amendment protects parody.


The Lyons Partnership filed the lawsuit in federal court last October. In its complaint, Lyons said the Chicken's use of a character resembling Barney in his act violated federal trademark and copyright laws.


The beatings, in particular, caused “consumer confusion, diversion of trade and dilution of the distinctive quality of the valuable Barney trademark,” the complaint said.


Lyons alleged in its lawsuit that young children can't tell the difference between the character the Chicken beats up and the real Barney. As evidence, the company gave the court television footage of a girl crying after the Chicken beat up the look-alike at a Texas Rangers baseball game.


The company sought damages of up to $100,000 for the more than 100 incidents prior to the lawsuit and $100,000 for each one after the lawsuit was filed.


Kelly Lane, spokeswoman for Lyons, said that company officials were disappointed with the ruling but haven't decided whether to appeal.


“After Lyons has had an opportunity to review the opinion, it will consider appeal options,” Lane said in a statement. “Lyons continues to believe that the Chicken's use of a Barney look-alike confuses and upsets young children who see their friend Barney being beaten up.”


Ted Giannoulas, who has performed as the Chicken for nearly 25 years, had a different reaction: “To paraphrase my purple adversary, I think the judge's decision is 'Super-dee-dooper!'”


In a statement, Giannoulas said the look-alike is clearly not Barney because the character he beats up “has rhythm.”


“He break dances and slap fights,” Giannoulas continued. “Nobody with a sense of humor could confuse it with the real Barney.


“Hopefully, Barney will go back to being a peaceful playmate, instead of a litigious bully.”