How should Schweinsteiger play it? The footballer and the offensive doll

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In one of the more unlikely IP news stories we have seen this year, the Manchester United and Germany footballer Sebastian Schweinsteiger is reportedly considering his legal options after discovering that a Hong Kong company is making dolls in the uniform of World War Two German soldiers, which bear an uncanny resemblance to the Bavarian midfielder.

The manufacturer denies that the similarity was intentional – although it is undeniably striking – maintaining that the doll’s appearance is what it thought all Germans looked like! Unfortunately, the Wehrmacht figure, complete with Third Reich insignia, is also called Bastian. The manufacturer says that this is just an unfortunate coincidence, that Bastian is a common German name.

Schweinsteiger’s lawyers are talking about defamation and insult but it Is not clear on what basis they would bring the claim. An infringement of Schweinsteiger’s “image right” is a possibility but this is a concept that varies greatly from jurisdiction to jurisdiction and begs the even harder question of where to bring the claim. Schweinsteiger’s best prospects of success might be in Germany but it is unlikely, for obvious reasons, that the dolls will be marketed there or, if they are, that they will be a commercial success. Bringing proceedings in China would be challenging to say the least.

It will be interesting to see how Schweinsteiger takes this forward. His PR agents may well advise him to do nothing as instituting proceedings will only keep this in the spotlight and any claim he does bring will not be straightforward.