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Big Red, the Western Kentucky University mascot, is at the center of a copyright infringement lawsuit involving an Italian television show. Western Kentucky’s licensing company, California-based Crossland Enterprises, alleges in a lawsuit that a character named Gabibbo on the Italian program “Striscia la Notizia” is a ripoff of the Hilltoppers’ red blob mascot. The company filed the lawsuit about 18 months ago after a cease-and-desist letter sent to the television program was ignored, said Deborah Wilkins, chief counsel for Western Kentucky. The show is owned by television production company Mediaset, the defendant in the lawsuit. “From what I understand, Gabibbo is hugely popular in Italy and makes a lot of money over there,” Wilkins said. The title of the show loosely translates as “Stripping the News.” The main difference between the appearances of Gabibbo and Big Red is that Big Red’s chest bears a large Western Kentucky logo while Gabibbo wears a mock tuxedo. Gabibbo has been a popular TV character in Italy for more than a decade, and a CD of his songs topped the Italian charts for a time in 1990. Big Red debuted in 1979, the brainchild of Western Kentucky student Ralph Carey. It has been an enduring and well-loved symbol of the “Western Spirit” ever since, according to a letter sent to Mediaset in January 2001 by Richard Davidoff, lead counsel in the case for Crossland Enterprises. “The ultimate victim of the Infringing Design is a unique, affordable, publicly funded school located in America’s heartland with a special Western Spirit and a deep emotional bond with its longtime mascot,” the letter said. The case is scheduled for a status conference this week. No trial date has been set. However, the judge in the case issued an important interim ruling in the case in January, decreeing that Big Red does have marketing rights in Italy, Davidoff said. The best evidence offered on behalf of the university is a 1991 interview in the Italian magazine “Novella” in which Gabibbo’s creator, Antonio Ricci, admitted that the character was based on Big Red, Davidoff said. Copyright 2004 Associated Press. All Rights Reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten, or redistributed.

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