Cartoon makers go in hard over soft toys claim

Roger Pearson reports that the makers of the hit series South Park hope to have the last laugh in a complaint over dolls.

The cast of the hit cartoon South Park is to go on trial at the High Court later this month. But the characters in the dock will be soft toys.

The companies behind the cartoon argue that the dolls are sufficiently similar to the show's characters to warrant an order banning their sale.

At a preliminary hearing before Mrs Justice Arden, who confessed she had never seen South Park, Delaware, Time Warner Entertainment, Viacom Ha! and Aardvark Productions obtained temporary undertakings from Playmakers (UK) that it would not take further orders for the toys that it imports from China, pending a full hearing of the case later this month.

Adrian Speck, for Time Warner, Viacom Ha! and Aardvark told the judge there were similarities between the dolls and the characters in the show and accused Playmakers of deliberately keeping the toys from its shelves at a trade fair and excluding them from its catalogue. He said the company had done this because it knew they were illegal.

However, Alastair Wilson QC, for Playmakers, claimed the "substantial differences" between the toys and the cartoon characters outweighed the similarities.

He said the characters in South Park had a grim appearance whereas the toys were "cheerful looking things".

The court was told that some 350,000 of the dolls at the centre of the battle are on their way to the UK to be distributed at fairgrounds and seaside amusement parks and arcades as prizes.

Wilson argued that Playmakers was a respectable organisation with a large turnover and denied there had been any secrecy about its dealings with the dolls.

In adjourning the case, to be heard later this month, the judge accepted undertakings from Playmakers not to take more orders for the toys and only to fulfil existing orders to fairgrounds and amusement arcades. Playmakers has also agreed to set aside 10 per cent of its sales earnings that will be handed to Time Warner if it wins the case.