Ex-Playmate’s Web Site Gets Her Tangled in Copyright Suit


A Playmate, a prince and a president’s lawyer, oh my.

Terri Welles, a flight attendant who was discovered at a party at the Playboy Mansion and went on to become Playmate of the year in 1981, now finds herself fighting the Bunny empire’s $5-million copyright infringement suit over her World Wide Web site.

Playboy Enterprises recently sued Welles in U.S. District Court in San Diego, charging that it holds the exclusive rights to the words “Playmate,” “Playmate of the month” and “Playmate of the year,” as well as the acronym “PMOY.”

Welles, the suit charges, identifies herself as a former Playmate of the year and uses the “PMOY” logo on her Web site, where she advertises a line of cigars, as well as her availability as a spokeswoman. Welles lives with a teenage daughter in Del Mar, Calif.


“The Playboy and Playmate trademarks have acquired such goodwill and secondary meaning that they have become famous and the public has come to associate them exclusively with [Playboy Enterprises] in connection with adult entertainment goods and services,” the suit says.

Playboy’s lawyers had no comment.

Welles’ attorney, Michael J. Plonsker, described the dispute as “a case of Playboy exercising its corporate muscle to prevent a single mom from trying to make a living with her own Web site.” Her “only alleged fault,” according to Plonsker, was “identifying herself as who she is--a Playboy Playmate of the year.”

DUELING DISNEY BIOS: The author of an unauthorized biography of the late Walt Disney is suing a publishing company and another writer for libel, charging that they damaged his reputation by slamming his book as “tabloid style” and “unrelentingly hateful.”

Marc Eliot, author of several pop culture biographies and “Walt Disney: Hollywood’s Dark Prince,” is seeking more than $1 million in damages from Boston publishing company Houghton Mifflin and writer Steven Watts.

According to the Los Angeles Superior Court lawsuit, Watts’ 1997 book, “The Magic Kingdom: Walt Disney and the American Way of Life,” charged that Eliot’s controversial biography “embellished the facts in the interest of scandal mongering.”

Eliot says the pro-Disney book falsely accused him of characterizing Mickey Mouse’s creator as a “Nazi sympathizer” and a “raging alcoholic,” among other, less printable things.


Representatives for Houghton Mifflin Co. and the Walt Disney Co. could not be reached for comment.

According to the lawsuit, Eliot began researching Disney’s private life in 1988 and found that “in many ways [Disney’s life] was inconsistent with the ‘all-American, wholesome family entertainment’ concept behind the company.”

Eliot’s research included Disney’s 500-plus-page FBI file and hundreds of interviews, said his attorney, Rex Reeves of Newport Beach.

“They’ve accused him of concocting up scandalous information about Walt Disney. Everything in Marc Eliot’s book is true and well sourced,” the lawyer said.

Eliot charges that the Disney Co., incensed by his account, launched a counterattack through Watts, of Missouri. Eliot, who has written books on Bruce Springsteen, folk singer Phil Ochs and Simpson guest house tenant Kato Kaelin, denies that his book about Disney was a “hatchet job” or that he wrote it with “a covert agenda,” Reeves said.

Watts could not be reached for comment.

THE BARBIE KAMA SUTRA: Pity poor Barbie. First she gets a smaller bust and bigger waist--and she’s, like, no longer blond. Now her privacy has allegedly been invaded.

Barbie’s corporate parent, Mattel Inc. of El Segundo, is rallying to the side of its billion-dollar plastic princess. The toy maker sued a pair of European magazines for publishing photos of Barbie and Ken dolls in compromising positions.

The suit, filed in U.S. District Court in Los Angeles, seeks unspecified damages for copyright infringement, not to mention allegedly soiling Barbie’s wholesome image. Ever since Barbie started dating Ken back in the early 1960s, she has never been “associated with anything obscene, vulgar or distasteful,” says the lawsuit, filed by attorney Adrian Pruetz.

Named as defendants are London’s For Him magazine, which published 10 explicit photos of a horizontal Barbie and Ken in 1996 in an article titled “All the Right Moves.” The article was picked up by a German men’s magazine.

Last year, Mattel sued MCA Records in legal action still pending in federal court for portraying Barbie as a bimbo in a song by the Danish pop group Aqua.

No comment from the magazines.

MORE SOUR NOTES: The heirs of jazz great Benny Goodman have plenty of company in their royalties fight with Capitol Records. Three more lawsuits accusing the record company of fraud and breach of contract have surfaced in Superior Court in Santa Monica.

Joining the legal battle are recording artists Peggy Lee, and Les Brown, whose band of renown toured with Bob Hope. The estate of entertainer Dinah Shore also filed suit. All are represented by Beverly Hills attorney Cyrus V. Godfrey and a Portland, Ore., law firm.

The suits allege that Capitol Records systematically underreported royalties and shortchanged the artists for years. They seek an accounting, punitive damages and court orders placing the artists’ works in a constructive trust--meaning they could not be sold without consent from the court, the artists or the artists’ heirs.

“One of Peggy’s famous songs says, ‘Why don’t you do right?’ I would hope Capitol would do right,” Godfrey said.

Attorneys in the case are keeping quiet about details for now, so it was unclear how the alleged accounting discrepancies were discovered.

Capitol Records had no comment, according to a spokesman.

IT’S GOOD TO BE THE PRINCE: A U.S. District judge has dismissed a beauty queen’s sex slavery suit against the sultan of Brunei’s younger brother, Prince Jefri Bolkia. Earlier, the same judge had dismissed the case against the sultan after finding that he was protected from such legal actions as a head of state.

Although such immunity did not extend to the next in line for the throne, Judge Consuelo B. Marshall found that the prince was protected by the Foreign Sovereign Immunity Act.

That protection was extended when lawyers for former Miss USA Shannon Marketic were unable to prove that the prince engaged in commercial activity outside the scope of his official duties, publicist Marty Cooper said.

Marketic, who also is a former Miss California, sued the sultan and Prince Jefri last year, alleging that they lured her to their oil-rich paradise, then held her there against her will for 32 days as a would-be sex slave.

Her suit continues against Kaliber Talent Consultants, which arranged what was billed as a promotional trip.

Brunei’s royal family said in a statement: “Marketic has had her day in court. She had her weeks in the tabloids and on the networks. Her allegations have now been exposed as a blatant attempt to restore a faltering career through publicity and self-enrichment.”

No immediate comment from Marketic.

IT’S NOT SO GOOD TO BE THE PREZ: Washington “super lawyer” Robert S. Bennett, who represents President Clinton in the Paula Jones case, bemoaned the high price of public service in our litigious times while speaking last week at a forum sponsored by the USC Law School and the Los Angeles County Bar Assn.

Consider Bennett’s client, presidential aide Harold Ickes, who received his first subpoena within three months of his arrival in Washington. By the time he left three years later, he had provided grand jury testimony 17 times and had responded to 20 subpoenas for documents. His personal copying bill was $20,000, Bennett said. And Ickes wasn’t even the person being investigated.