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Puppet murder movie survives lawsuit from 'Sesame Street' makers

People in Colorado who grew up watching "Sesame Street" will get very different content from the upcoming R-rated movie "The Happytime Murders." Comedian Melissa McCarthy stars alongside puppets in the film directed by Brian Henson, son of famed puppeteer Jim Henson who created many well-known Muppet characters for the children's educational television show. Upset by the film's raunchy content, Sesame Workshop, which makes the children's show, sued the film's distributor for its use of the slogan "No Sesame. All Street."

A U.S. district judge ruled that the "Sesame Street" makers did not establish that the marketing message confused people familiar with the children's show. The absence of complaints from sponsors and parents further convinced the judge to allow the distributor to continue using the "Sesame" tagline. The judge accepted that the tagline was meant to differentiate the film's content from that produced for children.

Attorneys representing Sesame Workshop had compared "The Happytime Murders" to the pornographic film "Debbie Does Dallas," which did not survive a legal challenge from the Dallas Cowboys cheerleaders. The damage done by the pornographic film to the cheerleader's brand had proved sufficient in that case for a court to rule against a filmmaker.

Businesses of all types often have a strong interest in protecting their brand images, trademarks and other intellectual property. An executive in charge of a company's brand assets might want the advice of an attorney when planning marketing materials, preparing licensing agreements or challenging an infringing party. Legal counsel could research issues and provide recommendations about how to proceed. When necessary, litigation to defend against infringement could be managed by an attorney.

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