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Tuesday, March 23, 1999 Published at 16:49 GMT

Business: The Company File

Teletubbies declare war

Teletubbies: Four of a kind

Cute and cuddly though they are, Teletubbies do not like a copycat.

A major US retailer has gone a big hug too far for the 'Tubbies UK owners, prompting a law suit alleging unauthorised reproduction.

Ragdoll Productions and The Itsy Bitsy Entertainment Company allege that Wal-Mart Stores' Bubbly Chubbies are unlicensed copies, and have taken the matter to Manhattan's Federal Court.

Ragdoll say the Bubbly Chubbies' characters are rip-offs of the Teletubbies, and that the name was deliberately chosen to rhyme.

[ image: The happy foursome]
The happy foursome
Wal-Mart is accused of trying to "evoke the same good will as the genuine Teletubbies" with its "similar attributes".

It also says Wal-Mart is trying to confuse consumers and sometimes displays Bubbly Chubbies right next to those famous icons of childhood.

But Wal-Mart said it would never knowingly infringe the Teletubbies' copyright.

Tinky Winky, Dipsy, Laa-Laa and Po have been delighting children and adults alike since they first appeared on BBC Television in 1997.

Teletubbies also mean big business, with the show airing in about 120 different countries, in 21 different languages and dialects.

Merchandise bonanza

There has been a huge demand for Teletubbies merchandise because of the series' success, and about 60 licensing agreements exist in the US.

The suit said that the "technological babies" all have television screens in their bellies and are designed so that their faces all have an "extra-planetary appearance".

It argues that Bubbly Chubbies have the same appearance, and are packaged in the same way, against drawings of a green grass field with colourful flowers.

Gay accusation

This is not the first time that the Teletubbies have hit headlines for matters other than being cute and selling huge amounts of merchandise.

Tinky Winky came under fire recently when Reverend Jerry Falwell, a former spokesman for America's Moral Majority, accused him of being gay.

He said the purple handbag-carrying Teletubby with a triangular antenna did not provide a good role model for children.

But Rev Falwell has since denied "outing" the Teletubby, whose favourite pastimes tend to involve eating custard and skipping.

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