Benjamin Appelbaum, Attorney at Law

Judge rules in Melissa McCarthy R-rated Muppets case

Moviegoers in New Jersey and around the country will continue to see trailers for R-rated film featuring puppet characters similar to those created by Jim Henson. Sesame Workshop filed a lawsuit on May 21 claiming that the trailers, which feature the tagline 'NO SESAME. ALL STREET," are tarnishing valuable intellectual property by depicting beloved children's characters taking drugs, using foul language and behaving violently. However, a New York federal judge was unconvinced by these arguments and ruled that the trailers could continue to be used to promote Melissa McCarthy's upcoming film.

The judge determined that the trailer for "The Happytime Murders" and its controversial tagline were clear attempts to differentiate the R-rated film from iconic children's television programs like "The Muppet Show" and "Sesame Street". McCarthy plays a human detective in the film who teams up with a puppet to solve a series of grisly murders. "The Happytime Murders" is scheduled to be released on Aug. 17.

While arguing for the trailer to be pulled, Sesame Workshop cited a case involving the Dallas Cowboys Cheerleaders and the makers of the pornographic film 'Debbie Does Dallas." The cheerleaders prevailed in that litigation, but the judge was unconvinced and drew a clear line between graphic pornography and comedic adult-themed entertainment featuring puppets.

This kind of litigation sometimes damages brands even further by drawing more attention to alleged copyright or trademark infringement, and attorneys with experience in intellectual property litigation may seek to resolve these disputes quietly and amicably whenever possible to avoid these risks. Films like "The Happytime Murders" are often made by devoted fans seeking to pay homage to beloved characters, and attorneys may suggest eschewing protracted, costly and unpredictable litigation in favor of a more proactive and cooperative approach.

Source: Fox News, "Melissa McCarthy's R-rated puppet movie wins lawsuit against 'Sesame Street'", Stephen Sorace, May 31, 2018

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Benjamin Appelbaum, Attorney at Law - Intellectual Property

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