Ventriloquist Superstar Jeff Dunham Sues Over Dummy Piracy

Tony Horn, the defendant, responds that Dunham is the one who ripped off the dummy from an earlier ventriloquist.
Dunham and his "Walter" dummy

Hollywood has a dispute over a dummy named "Walter" on its hands.

Jeff Dunham, the ventriloquist, producer and stand-up comedian, created the "Walter" character, and according to a lawsuit filed on Monday, he's got a trademark in the class of "talking dolls and plastic dolls" as well as a copyright registration for the 3D artwork and sculptural design of the dummy.

Now in a case that figures to test the intellectual property associated with a character of three-dimensional appearance, Dunham is taking on a guy who supposedly produces dummy replicas.

Dunham is quite proud of his own dummy.

According to the suit, "Walter" has appeared with him on thousands of live shows for the past 25 years, appeared in YouTube videos, sitcoms and Dunham's A Very Special Christmas Special, said to be the most watched telecast in Comedy Central history.

The defendant is Tony Horn, whose Facebook page touts his own dummy figures.

"Defendant has engaged in the manufacturing, advertising, marketing, distribution, offer for sale, and sale of ventriloquist dummies that are substantially identical to 'Walter' and that incorporate the Walter IP," states the complaint (read here) filed in California federal court.

The lawsuit says that Horn has urged his social media community to "compare his figure to Walter," and after getting a cease and desist letter, was selling the imitation for anywhere between $350 and $1,000. The sales are said to have continued despite "eBay removing at least one of his listings of the Infringing Product due to infringement."

Dunham, represented by Marty Singer and Lindsay Molnar at Lavely & Singer, is claiming violations of trademark, trade dress, copyright and unfair competition, and demanding all sorts of monetary compensation. The complaint also seeks the destroying of merchandise "falsely bearing Plaintiff’s Walter Copyright, the Walter Mark and/or the Walter Trade Dress," and — maybe a sign of things to come as 3D printing takes off — the destruction of "any molds, screens, patterns, or plates used specifically for making or manufacturing products bearing the Walter Copyright, or which picture, reproduce, or utilize the likeness of or copy or bear a substantial similarity to the Walter Copyright."

Reached for comment, Horn responds that he hasn't made a "Walter" replica. "If you put them together, you would say, 'Absolutely no, they aren't the same.'"

Horn admits there's some resemblance, but asserts that Dunham is the one who ripped off the "Walter" dummy from an earlier ventriloquist before getting a copyright registration. He says he hasn't made much money on what he's sold, and adds, "There's no competition here. He's an entertainer and I'm a figure maker. I disagree with the whole thing."