Conference: It’s a Barbie World: Intellectual Property, Rights of Publicity, and the Gender Wars (Colorado Law/Silicon Flatirons)

Conference:  It’s a Barbie World: Intellectual Property, Rights of Publicity, and the Gender Wars

Thursday, March 7, 2019, 8:30am–1:30pm
University of Colorado Law School
Wolf Law Building, Wittemyer Courtroom
2450 Kittredge Loop Road
Boulder, CO



The nature and extent of intellectual property rights in product design, and in one’s name and likeness, pose some of the most challenging questions for courts today. These issues converge at an unexpected juncture: BarbieTM.

In 2011, Barbie manufacturer Mattel lost its nearly decade-long intellectual property battle against competing toy company MGA Entertainment over its line of Bratz dolls. In 2016, a change in executive leadership—and perhaps more pointedly, a significant drop in profits—led to a fresh face for Barbie for the first time since her introduction in 1959: new body types and skin tones were introduced with the stated goal of promoting healthy body image in young girls.

In March 2018, timed to coincide with International Women’s Day, Mattel released its “Inspiring Women” Barbie collection featuring Amelia Earhart, Frida Kahlo, and Katherine Johnson. Even a casual observer of the Frida Kahlo doll will immediately notice the absence of the artist’s famous unibrow. Kahlo’s niece, Mara de Anda Romeo, speaking through the attorney for Kahlo’s estate, would also note the doll’s artificially light-colored eyes and impossibly spindly arms to insist that the representation is not authorized.

In our fifth annual conference on content, Silicon Flatirons is excited to bring two leading experts on intellectual property law to discuss their latest book projects and their respective implications not only for the seminal question “Who can own an idea?”, but also for the broader cultural debate around sex and gender roles. We are pleased to welcome Orly Lobel, author of You Don’t Own Me: How Mattel v. MGA Entertainment Exposed Barbie’s Dark Side, and Jennifer Rothman, author of The Right of Publicity: Privacy Reimagined for a Public World, to headline this conference.

Following a presentation of both book projects, we will convene a roundtable of experts in intellectual property and gender to discuss, among other topics:

  • conceptions and treatment of ownership and value, especially as they vary between men and women
  • anticompetitive use of IP law and concerns about the concentration of power (and composition of leadership) in culture-producing industries
  • IP’s expansion to human capital and the disparity in male/female compensation
  • fair use in the context of public criticism, especially about gender roles