News / Asia

North Korea Accused of 'Unauthorized' Production of Sesame Street Toys

A product advertisement for the Korea Kyonghung Trading Corporation featured in a trade publication on a North Korean government website showing toys that look similar to Sesame Street Products.
A product advertisement for the Korea Kyonghung Trading Corporation featured in a trade publication on a North Korean government website showing toys that look similar to Sesame Street Products.
TEXT SIZE - +
The U.S. non-profit group that produces the children's television show Sesame Street  says a major North Korean toy maker is producing unlicensed replicas of popular characters from the internationally syndicated educational program.
 
North Korea's Kyonghung Trading Corporation has been advertising the toys for sale to the international market, using an advertisement published in a North Korean government "Foreign Trade" magazine. Three of the stuffed animals pictured in the ad resemble Sesame Street's  Big Bird, Cookie Monster and Elmo. 
 
In a statement emailed to VOA Wednesday, Sesame Workshop said "we believe the toys pictured are unauthorized." The multi-media company sells its own plush toys featuring the characters and uses licensees such as New Jersey-based toy maker GUND to produce them in China, Bangladesh and elsewhere. 
 
Dozens of toys
 
Kyonghung says its Pyongyang toy factory was established in 2005 and has an annual output of hundreds of thousands of items, including more than 60 types of toy. It says it employs a "large number of toy experts and skilled workers with elaborate craftsmanship."
 
Sesame said it has not faced a major copyright infringement case outside the United States in the last few years. The non-profit group said it takes "appropriate legal actions" in response to infringements when it believes they can be "effective." 
 
Sesame may find it difficult to sue Kyonghung because the United States and North Korea do not have diplomatic relations and have remained in a technical state of war since the end of the Korean War in 1953.
 
In a separate statement to VOA, GUND spokeswoman Doris Bernar said the Kyonghung products "appear to be confusingly similar to copyrighted products of Sesame or GUND, but it is unclear from the advertisement." She said GUND has "successfully protected (its) rights internationally on numerous occasions."
 
Disney complaint
 
U.S. media giant Walt Disney Company made a similar complaint about North Korea last July, when North Korean state television broadcast images of an unprecedented concert with performers dressed as Disney characters such as Minnie Mouse and Tigger. 
 
The concert by a North Korean band was held in honor of the nation's young new leader, Kim Jong Un, who appears to have eased restrictions on Western culture in the reclusive state. The Walt Disney Company said it had "not licensed or authorized" the performance, but did not disclose whether any action would be taken. 
 
Sesame also told VOA its licensees in China and other countries have not outsourced the manufacturing of any products to North Korea. 
 
Outsourcing concern
 
In an article published Tuesday, North Korean news blog NK News said it has become "increasingly common" for Chinese manufacturers to "outsource" production to North Korea, where labor costs tend to be lower. 
 
U.S. sanctions forbid imports to the United States of North Korean goods and services, including those that are used as components of products finished in a third country.
 
Sesame said it "periodically" visits the Asian factories of its licensees to ensure that they comply with "stringent manufacturing obligations." GUND, one of those licensees, said it has long-term relationships with its factories and requires them to sign written agreements that prohibit outsourcing or subcontracting without its consent.
 
The U.S. Treasury Department said violators of the North Korean import ban face fines of up to $1 million and a maximum sentence of 20 years in prison. When asked by VOA about the Kyonghung toy case, a Treasury official said the department does not comment on "specific potential violations" of the sanctions program. 

Michael Lipin

Michael covers international news for VOA on the web, radio and TV, specializing in the Middle East and East Asia Pacific. Follow him on Twitter @Michael_Lipin

You May Like

Wikipedia Proves Useful for Tracking Flu

Technique gave better results than Center for Disease Control (CDC) and Google’s Flu Trends More

Turkish Law Gives Spy Agency Controversial Powers

Parliament approves legislation to bolster powers of intelligence service, which government claims is necessary to modernize and deal with new threats Turkey faces More

Video Face of American Farmer Changing

Average American farmer is now 58 years old, and farmers 65 and older are the fastest growing segment of the population More

This forum has been closed.
Comment Sorting
Comments
     
by: Felix Abt
January 10, 2013 2:51 AM
While it cannot be ruled out that these toys were illegally produced in North Korea there is no evidence that a North Korean factory had made them. A photo in a DPRK trade magazine is no proof.

OEM manufacturers keep a lot of samples from various brand owners that they analyze and learn from. I also have seen OEM manufacturers in developing countries exhibit brand products (not made by them) in their showrooms.

Felix Abt, author of "A Capitalist in North Korea: My Seven Years in the Hermit Kingdom"

Featured Videos

Your JavaScript is turned off or you have an old version of Adobe's Flash Player. Get the latest Flash player.
Face of American Farmer is Changingi
X
Mike Osborne
April 18, 2014
The average American farmer is now 58 years old, and farmers 65 and older are the fastest growing segment of the population. It’s a troubling trend signaling big changes ahead for American agriculture as aging farmers retire. Reporter Mike Osborne says a new report from the U.S. Census Bureau is suggesting what some of those changes might look like... and why they might not be so troubling.
Video

Video Face of American Farmer is Changing

The average American farmer is now 58 years old, and farmers 65 and older are the fastest growing segment of the population. It’s a troubling trend signaling big changes ahead for American agriculture as aging farmers retire. Reporter Mike Osborne says a new report from the U.S. Census Bureau is suggesting what some of those changes might look like... and why they might not be so troubling.
Video

Video Donetsk Governor: Ukraine Military Assault 'Delicate But Necessary'

Around a dozen state buildings in eastern Ukraine remain in the hands of pro-Russian protesters who are demanding a referendum on self-rule. The governor of the whole Donetsk region is among those forced out by the protesters. He spoke to VOA's Henry Ridgwell from his temporary new office in Donetsk city.
Video

Video Drones May Soon Send Data From High Seas

Drones are usually associated with unmanned flying vehicles, but autonomous watercraft are also becoming useful tools for jobs ranging from scientific exploration to law enforcement to searching for a missing airliner in the Indian Ocean. VOA’s George Putic reports on sea-faring drones.
Video

Video New Earth-Size Planet Found

Not too big, not too small. Not too hot, not too cold. A newly discovered planet looks just right for life as we know it, according to an international group of astronomers. VOA’s Steve Baragona has more.
Video

Video Copts in Diaspora Worry About Future in Egypt

Around 10 percent of Egypt’s population belong to the Coptic faith, making them the largest Christian minority in the Middle East. But they have become targets of violence since the revolution three years ago. With elections scheduled for May and the struggle between the Egyptian military and Islamists continuing, many Copts abroad are deeply worried about the future of their ancient church. VOA religion correspondent Jerome Socolovsky visited a Coptic church outside Washington DC.
Video

Video Critics Say Venezuelan Protests Test Limits of Military's Support

During the two months of deadly anti-government protests that have rocked the oil-rich nation of Venezuela, President Nicolas Maduro has accused the opposition of trying to initiate a coup. Though a small number of military officers have been arrested for allegedly plotting against the government, VOA’s Brian Padden reports the leadership of the armed forces continues to support the president, at least for now.
Video

Video More Millenials Unplug to Embrace Board Games

A big new trend in the U.S. toy industry has more consumers switching off their high-tech gadgets to play with classic toys, like board games. This is especially true among the so-called millenial generation - those born in the 1980's and 90's. Elizabeth Lee has more from an unusual café in Los Angeles, where the new trend is popular and business is booming.
Video

Video Google Buys Drone Company

In its latest purchase of high-tech companies, Google has acquired a manufacturer of solar-powered drones that can stay in the air almost indefinitely, relaying broadband Internet connection to remote areas. It is seen as yet another step in the U.S. based Web giant’s bid to bring Internet to the whole world. VOA’s George Putic reports.
AppleAndroid