–Ben Kwan, Attorney

I can’t even say the word!  Don’t worry, I’ll have to eventually.  Let’s just say the folks at CBS are likely pretty steamed up over getting hauled into court on a smelly copyright suit involving a noisy character from its popular NCIS show.

The California designer, developer, and manufacturer of the original “Bert the Farting Hippo” is suing CBS as well as a host of others including the online retailer authorized by CBS to operate and sell goods in the CBS Store.  The copyright infringement suit alleges that the retailer went rogue in 2012, opting to source the copyright-protected plush and popular noisemaker in China rather than the California company that developed the original, Folkmanis, Inc.

As of this morning, Bert the Farting Hippo appears to be pulled from the virtual shelves of the CBS Store.  Earlier this week, The Hollywood Reporter noted that the hippo was still for sale at 53% off.

According to the Folkmanis complaint filed Monday in the Northern District of California, Bert’s first appearance on television came back in 2003 when the producers of NCIS acquired a silent version of the stuffed hippopotamus for use on the show.  When the hippo appeared on the show, the complaint alleges, “it was often accompanied by a dubbed sound effect of a fart attributable to the Hippo 1 puppet, and the show puppet was referred to and came to be known as ‘Bert the Farting Hippo.’”

Quick aside: I love the way lawyers write sometimes: a “fart attributable to…”  It almost hearkens to patent claim-writing parlance.  Attorney H. Michael Brucker, who filed the suit, must not be aware of the time-old rule, “you smelt it, you dealt it.”  It’s so much more conversational that way!  Then again, I see nothing about Bert’s ability to smell.  But I must admit, it’d be pretty cute if parents started to teach their children to assign blame using a more proper form of attribution.  But I digress.

The suit goes on to allege that in 2010, CBS and its online retailer-licensee “surmised that a hippo puppet would be a profitable product to offer for sale on the CBS Store.”  Folkmanis obliged, developing a version of its hippo that included “a sound box that emulates the sound of a fart.”  Emulates! Much to the chagrin of parents everywhere, of course.  In 2011, a keychain version of Bert was introduced.

Can you guess how many hippos they sold between just 2010 and 2012?  I’m not an NCIS fan so I didn’t know about Bert until I caught wind of this suit this week, so I’d never heard of this creature.  Would you believe it if I told you they sold some 30,000 farting hippos?  That’s what the complaint alleges.

Enter the presumably cheaper Chinese counterparts.  Folkmanis alleges that the online retailer operating the CBS Store started sourcing the hippos in China starting in 2012 and hasn’t purchased a single hippo or hippo keychain from Folkmanis since that time.  The lawsuit cites two copyrights, one for the stuffed animal toy, and one that’s pending that covers the keychain.

Since 2012, Folkmanis alleges that it has suffered an estimated $733,000.00 in damages.