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Monday, August 31, 1998

Whose Nuts?
Privacy, Pee and Intellectual Property

by Clinton Fein

Legal counsel representing cartoonist Charles Schultz, creator of the Peanuts comic strip, has threatened legal action against the creator of a web site parody depicting the famous characters "Charlie Brown" and "Lucy".

In a letter to the creator of the parody Ezekiel Krahlin, Baker & Hostetler LLP, general counsel for United Feature Syndicate, Inc., which syndicates the comic strip, asserted their client's ownership of all of the copyrights, trademarks, and other subsidiary rights relating to the comic strip and its characters.

The dispute arose over a parody on Krahlin's web site depicting Peanuts characters "Charlie Brown" and "Lucy" accusing Charles Schultz of being anti-gay. The cartoon strip refers to the creator as Schitz rather than Schulz under the tile "Peenuts." In addition to simply publishing the parody, Krahlin offers to license the design as a "fund raiser for lesbian/gay groups...for T-shirts, mugs" stating that the "copyrighted" image while "free for personal and activist use, as long as the copyright remains intact" requires both permission and a one percent licensing fee on all sale items using the image.

"Third persons are not authorized to reproduce or copy the PEANUTS(r) comic strip characters in any form for any purpose without a written license from United Feature Syndicate, Inc." stated Melanie Corcoran in a letter sent to Krahlin by Baker & Hostetler LLP's Case Assistant Duncan Poirier, dated Monday, 31 Aug 1998. In addition the law firm demanded that Krahlin release full details about the sale of the product, including " [T]he names and addresses of each person or company to which you or your licensees sold any of the items listed in paragraph 3."

While the copyrighting and licensing of parody images is a tricky intellectual property issue, the extent to which an entity asserting copyright ownership can demand private information pertaining to the purchasers of merchandise who have nothing to do with the alleged infringement is disturbing.

According to the letter, Peanuts is syndicated in over two thousand newspapers in the United States and throughout the world. Other Schulz characters include "Snoopy," "Linus," and "Woodstock".


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