Toymaker Ty has apparently started marketing dolls named “Sasha” and “Melia.” I saw a quote by Ty saying that it was a complete coincidence that those happen to also be the names of President Obama’s daughters, but I don’t think anyone’s buying that story.
On the other hand, I can’t get behind the analyses laying out the causes of actions the Obama’s could raise in suing to stop the dolls. Even if the dolls portrayed more of a likeness of the girls, the free speech angle still seems too blithely dismissed. As I commented on the PatentlyO site’s post, while Ty’s marketing of the dolls may be unseemly, we are much better off being a country where this kind of thing is allowed to happen than a country where it is not.
I kept thinking about the Australian just imprisoned for having insulted the Thai royal family, and Nicolas Sarkozy’s lawsuit against another doll maker who had made a voodoo doll of him. Naturally these individuals as people have legitimate interests in not wanting to be exploited or insulted. In the case of the Obama daughters these interests are even more pronounced and legitimate, being that they’re minors caught up in their father’s career.
Some commenter made the weak analogy comparing the Obamas’ rights to those Angelina Jolie and Brad Pitt would have if their children were similarly used as dolls. But while I think there still would be legitimate First Amendment issues raised by that scenario, those issues are heightened in the examples raised above because they involve public figures in a very public sense. Jolie-Pitt are private yet famous figures, whereas the Thai king, Sarkozy, and the Obama family derive their celebrity from the ruling power the public bestows on them. As governing figures the public must have fairly free reign to comment on them.
The devil will of course be in the details, and I can imagine circumstances where the Obama daughters could be unacceptably exploited: commercially, if false endorsements were expressed or implied (e.g., along the lines of “I’m Melia, and I like This Product!”), or, in terms of privacy, if the intimate details of their lives were shared publicly without their permission.
But Ty is just making a stupid doll, and that should be ok. The Obama girls occupy an important place in the public consciousness, and no law should create the fiction that they are not. People must always be free to comment on their public figures by whatever means they see fit, be they complimentary or negative, tasteful or shlocky. No matter how tacky our embrace of the objects of our attention, being forbidden to do so would be a blight much worse.