Grim day in court for South Park toys

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A HIGH Court judge, several barristers and a court full of copyright lawyers gathered yesterday to debate whether four cuddly toys looked unhappy enough to be copies of cartoon characters they had never seen.

In a surreal touch, the four toys - which are allegedly being passed off as characters from the cartoon show South Park - sat on the judge's bench staring at Mrs Justice Arden and surveying the proceedings.

The case had been brought by Time Warner Entertainment, Viacom and Aadvark Productions seeking an injunction banning Playmakers UK from importing and marketing the Chinese-made toys.

The judge, who confessed she had never seen South Park, was told by Adrian Speck, a barrister: "In my chambers, all the unmarried young men are very keen on it. It has become very successful and the merchandising rights in the characters are worth a substantial amount of money." Mr Speck was appearing for the South Park copyright owners and said the similarities between the dolls and the South Park art work were obvious.

Alastair Wilson QC, for the defence, disagreed. "The South Park characters all have a strikingly grim appearance about them," he said. "All ours are cheerful looking things."

The court heard that 350,000 of the dolls were on their way from China for distribution as prizes at fairgrounds and seaside attractions. The case was adjourned until next month for a full trial of the legal issues.