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Friday, 3 April 2009

Playmobil figurines, a vicar and a copyright dispute

From Germany, via the IPKat's friend Edward Tomlinson comes the news of a bizarre copyright dispute over the use of Playmobil toy figurines.

According to a report by the Sueddeutsche Zeitung a young Protestant vicar, Pfarrer Markus Bomhard, has been "deforming" Playmobil figurines to depict biblical scenes. He designed new outfits for the figurines and painted these in his efforts to make everything look as realistic as possible.

Furthermore, the God-fearing vicar has reportedly been using candles to heat the figurines and bend them into the right shape. Apparently he has also - and there is no other way of putting this - "crucified" Playmobil figurines. Do not worry, his motives are of a pure and entirely religious nature and it is his plans to re-enact the whole bible by using the (deformed) figurines. On his websites and, which show photographs of his efforts, he states that his aim was "the proclamation of the Christian faith through the use of a great toy". The Sueddeutsche Zeitung reports that even Pope Benedict XVI appears to be a supporter of the vicar's non-profit project.

Nevertheless, the manufacturers, Geobra Brandstätter, have taken offence and called in their attorneys. A spokesperson for Geobra Brandstätter's is cited as saying that the manufacturer considers the changes to the figurines as an infringement of their copyright. While they were quite tolerant when it comes to creative consumers as long as this was conducted in private. However, the publicity surrounding the vicar's project "was of completely different dimensions". Furthermore, the vicar had clearly crossed a line when adding breasts and genitals on to his Playmobil version of Adam and Eve.

Even though the vicar has since removed the offending breasts and genitals, which he had added for the sake of authenticity, Geobra Brandstätter is still not happy: they have sent the vicar a cease and desist letter asking him to stop his infringing use by 6 April 2009. Reason for this is apparently that the manufactuerer wants to pre-empt a book offer from an interested publishing house which is rumoured to have planned a Playmobil Bible.

The IPKat has checked the vicar's website and he has already announced that he will stop using the term "playmo-bibel", which has been renamed to "klicky-bibel". The IPKat understands that Geobra Brandstätter have to enforce their copyrights and that clearly not all use is acceptable; for example when German TV entertainer Harald Schmidt used Playmobil figurines on his late night show to reenact the life of Adolf Hitler. Merpel on the hand, while not associated with any religious beliefs, has rather enjoyed the vicar's website and wonders whether the manufacturer could have perhaps used the vicar's project as an advertising tool and allowed other religious groups to create similar projects, if they so wish.


Anonymous said...

The Telegraph ran this news story as well:


Anonymous said...

This is all slightly old hat. The vicar has clearly been perusing the wondeful Brick Testament- the same thing, but with Lego. See

osterhase said...

no old hat! this is in all the news in germany. very funny and very easter

Anonymous said...

Do costumes designers of TV productions therefore need to obtain the permission of the copyright owner everytime that they use existing articles to create a new costume for a television programme? That can't be the point of the laws of copyright.

Anonymous said...

would the old hat fit a playmobil toy? that is what interests me.

Anonymous said...

I suspect that Geobra was probably rightfully nervous about boycotts in markets with religious groupings less liberal than a young German Lutheran vicar, or even Pope Benedict XVI (America, I'm looking at you), if it appeared to endorse a project including fake genitals and crucified figurines, no matter how religious the actual intent...

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