To quote the Sesame Street theme song, characters in Melissa McCarthy’s new movie “Come and play” but everything is certainly not “A-OK.” McCarthy is about to release her movie The Happytime Murders, a R-rated production that reportedly depicts puppets engaging in lewd acts. The movie proclaims “No Sesame. All Street.” Sesame Street’s parent company objects that its brand will be tarnished by “explicit, profane, drug-using, misogynistic, violent, copulating, and even ejaculating puppets.”
The film is actually directed by one of Jim Henson’s family members.
The complaint states that “The promotion of The Happytime Murders should succeed or fail on its own merits, not on a cynical, unlawful attempt to deceive and confuse the public into associating it with the most celebrated children’s program in history.”
One of the marketing images included in the complaint includes a tweet image reading “I’ll never look at muppets/sesame street the same way.”
The complaint stresses that this is about the marketing not the movie:
“While the trailer at issue is almost indescribably crude, ‘Sesame’ is not trying to enjoin defendants’ promotion or distribution of their movie. It is only defendants’ deliberate choice to invoke and commercially misappropriate ‘Sesame’s’ name and goodwill in marketing the movie — and thereby cause consumers to conclude that ‘Sesame’ is somehow associated with the movie — that has infringed on and tarnished the ‘Sesame Street’ mark and goodwill.”
My concern is that, since it is unlikely that anyone would confuse this satire with the actual production of Sesame Street, it is unclear why the movie should be enjoined. If the movie does not constitute a copyright violation, why should the marketing be limited? Such injunctions have a direct impact on free speech and expression in the form of satire and social commentary. The threat to free speech seems far clearer than the basis for the lawsuit.
The movie depicts a world where puppets are treated as inferior to humans and apparently things prove “a magic carpet ride” where “every door will open wide
To happy people like you.”
Kudos:Professor Roger E. Schechter