The Barcelona catwalk canary that caused a ruckus

Wide-eyed Tweety Bird has long stirred trouble in the cartoon world of Sylvester the Cat and Granny. But now the lisping canary, whose most profound cultural contribution previously came in the immortal words "I tawt I taw a puddy tat", has set off a row in the hallowed and humourless halls of couture.

A Barcelona prosecutor has asked for an 18-month jail sentence for David Dalmau, half of the sibling design team behind the fashion label Custo Barcelona, for allegedly selling clothes featuring an image of the innocent-looking yellow bird without Warner Brothers' authorisation. The alleged Tweety knock-off is a violation of intellectual property laws, the prosecutor claimed in a court document leaked to the press.

Custo Barcelona, known for its patchwork pop-art look, denies that it has plagiarised Looney Tunes. The firm, which recently embarked on New York's Fashion Week with a metallic and fake-fur aesthetic more akin to Tweety's black-and-white foe Sylvester, claims its canary image is original. It appears amid prints of other animals and young girls - a design, as Custo's lawyers maintain, that is "characteristic of the Custo Barcelona brand". Custo is reportedly seeking the testimony of a design expert to point out the differences between the two birds.

"Custo is a creative designer, not a bunch of pirates that live off imitation," Dalmau told the news agency EFE. He expressed surprise at the prosecutor's decision to accept the case after it had been shelved twice previously. He believes Warner Bros exerted pressure on the courts, and that the news leak was timed to coincide with the end of New York Fashion Week.

David Dalmau is named in the suit as the sole head of the company Blue Tower, which manufactures and distributes the Custo Barcelona label. His better-known brother, Custo Dalmau, controls the firm's creative side. The designer hired to create the animal print, referred to as Carmen G, could also be sent to prison.

The canary caper began in 2005 when Warner Bros representatives in Spain spotted the bird image they claimed to be Tweety on T-shirts at the label's Barcelona store. They promptly sent a message to Custo forbidding the firm from putting Tweety on its prints. According to a company statement, Custo Barcelona replied that it had "not copied the bird, and would not do so in the future", but that it would withdraw the T-shirts from the market.

But, that summer, police visited a Custo shop in Barcelona and confiscated 18 shirts covered with the image of a cartoon bird. Because of the warning, prosecutors accuse Dalmau, and Carmen G of "being conscious of both the illegal condition of the design and the lack of authorisation for its sale".

In a statement, Blue Tower said it tried to recall the T-shirts "as quickly as possible" but did not have time to collect all of them before the police bust.

Until now, Custo Barcelona had been the one pointing the finger at copycats. Last year, it publicly threatened to sue the Spanish fashion chain Desigual for the "repeated and systematic imitation" of its colourful designs and contrasting textures.

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