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Simpsons T-Shirt Draws Legal Threats

20th Century Fox to Sue Dunster If House Continues to Sell Shirts

By Joshua W. Shenk

For a number of Harvard's residential houses, selling t-shirts portraying television's Simpson family should have been a simple affair. But like Bart, the family's precocious prepubescent son, one house just couldn't stay out of trouble.

On Friday, the Dunster House Committee stopped sales of their 1990 shirt--which featured Bart Simpson on the back--because they were told they were violating copyright laws, said Heather R. Douglas '91, co-chair of the committee.

According to Douglas, a woman who said she represented Trademark Protective Services in Los Angeles told Douglas over the phone that 20th Century Fox--producer of the weekly TV series The Simpsons--would pursue legal action if another shirt is sold.

The Trademark Protective Services company could not be reached for comment, but Andrew Starr '91, a Dunster resident on leave this semester, said last night he was the one who notified 20th Century Fox and sent them one of the shirts.

"I was protecting the interests of 20th Century Fox, which has every right to make sure that their trademark is not used by anyone else without permission," Starr said.

Jeffrey C. Olkin '90, Starr's former roommate, said this was not the first time Starr had taken action to prevent copyright infringement. "Last year he wrote to McDonald's complaining that the Dining Services uses the name 'MacEggs,'" Olkin said.

House Committee Co-Chair David S. Strait '91 said the committee is taking the call from the agency very seriously, although sitting on the 150 remaining shirts will prove a "big financial burden."

"I suspect they aren't going to sue us," Straitsaid. "They probably just wanted us to stopselling the shirts."

House Master Karel F. Liem said he plans toconsult Harvard Vice President and General CounselDaniel Steiner '54 before calling back the womanwho contacted Douglas on Friday.

"Potentially this could be very serious," saidLiem, who is also Bigelow Professor of Icthyology."Copyright laws are very strict and very clearlydefined. We should proceed cautiously."

Liem said yesterday that he still hadn't seenthe design for the shirt.

"I didn't even know who these Simpson creatureswere," he said. "I don't watch TV."

Both Quincy and Leverett Houses, as well as theHarvard water polo team, are also selling shirtsthat feature characters from The Simpsons.Only Dunster, however, has been contacted aboutcopyright infringement.

Quincy House and the water polo team officialssaid they have sold nearly all of their shirts,and Leverett shirts were still being soldyesterday.

Amy E. Adams '91, co-chair of the Quincy Housecommittee, said she discussed the issue ofcopyrights with the company that printed theshirts for Quincy, and was told not to worry aboutcopyright infringments for such a small quantityof shirts

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