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OFF BEAT: Puppet maker says CBS violated copyright on gassy stuffed hippo

August 27, 2014 - 1:36pm


There are some phrases one simply never expects to encounter in a professional context — and until now, “the farting hippo” was certainly among them.

Folkmanis Inc., an Emeryville, California-based puppet manufacturer, has sued CBS Broadcasting Inc. for illegally copying one of its stuffed animal designs for a line of merchandise related to the network’s “N.C.I.S.” television program.

According to documents filed Monday in U.S. District Court in San Francisco, “N.C.I.S.” has been using a stuffed hippopotamus manufactured by Folkmanis as a prop since 2003. On the show, the toy belongs to an eccentric U.S. Naval forensic scientist who has named it Bert the Farting Hippo. For comedic effect, a superimposed fart sound is emitted whenever one of the characters gives Bert a squeeze.

Over time, the toy became a popular recurring gag on the show. CBS began selling replicas of Bert the Farting Hippo in 2010 that were purchased from Folkmanis. Two years later, the network allegedly switched to a Chinese manufacturer to supply the replica hippos, along with key chains, slippers and T-shirts bearing the stuffed animal’s likeness.

Currently, all Bert the Farting Hippo merchandise has since been removed from the network’s online store.

In its lawsuit, Folkmanis says the merchandise violates its copyright on the design of the original hippo. The company is seeking at least $733,000 in damages, which it says is roughly equivalent to CBS’ profits from the sale of the merchandise, plus an injunction barring the network from further sales of products bearing the contested design.

In the meantime, there’s no word on whether the dispute will lead to an untimely “N.C.I.S.” ending for the flatulent Bert.

 



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