Sesame Street Creators Sue 'The Happytime Murders' Producers

Sesame Workshop, the studio behind children's television staple Sesame Street, has filed a lawsuit asking for an injunction against the producers of Melissa McCarthy's forthcoming comedy The Happytime Murders from using trademarks belonging to Sesame Workshop in their promotion, and asking for unspecified damages from trademark infringement they allege has already happened.

“Sesame seeks to enjoin Defendants’ deliberate effort to appropriate its SESAME STREET mark, and its trusted brand and goodwill, to promote their R-rated movie, The Happytime Murders, by way of a violent and sexually-explicit trailer,” reads a copy of the lawsuit obtained by TheWrap. “SESAME STREET is a registered trademark of Sesame, an organization with a long and storied history of ‘helping kids grow smarter, stronger and kinder.' Defendants’ widely-distributed marketing campaign features a just-released trailer with explicit, profane, drug-using, misogynistic, violent, copulating, and even ejaculating puppets, along with the tagline ‘NO SESAME. ALL STREET.’ Defendants do not own, control or have any right to use the SESAME STREET mark. Instead, they are distributing a trailer that deliberately confuses consumers into mistakenly believing that Sesame is associated with, has allowed, or has even endorsed or produced the movie and tarnishes Sesame’s brand.”

The claim might seem hard to swallow, but in an age of remakes, reboots, spinoffs, and other ancillary ways of capitalizing on intellectual property, one could argue that to the casual viewer, an adult-oriented Sesame Street spinoff might not be beyond the pale. Couple that with puppets that are identified in the film's synopsis as working on a children's TV show, and who bear more than superficial resemblances to muppets used on Sesame Street, and a compelling case could be built that the trailer is creating genuine confusion among a segment of the audience. Whether a court would believe such an interpretation is anybody's guess.

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The similarity is more than just a coincidence: Brian Henson is directing the film under the Jim Henson Company’s Henson Alternative banner.

The suit continues that the “threat of irreparable injury posed to Sesame’s mark and brand cannot be overstated. Sesame has worked for nearly 50 years to build, cultivate and maintain trust with its audience of parents and young children built on its reputation for wholesome educational programming. That trust, although built over a span of generations, is too easily lost and is now in jeopardy. Defendants threaten to inflict serious, irreparable damage to Sesame’s mark and brand by associating their adult movie with Sesame Street.”

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“A parade of social media posts, emails and public comments” indicates that the tagline “has confused and appalled viewers because of what they believe to be a serious breach of trust by Sesame by supporting this movie. Defendant’s actions have diluted and defiled Sesame’s beloved Sesame Street children’s television show and SESAME STREET mark by associating their trailer with Sesame Street,” the complaint says.

The Happytime Murders will be in theaters this summer.