Sesame Workshop examines possible unlicensed North Korean knock-off toys

By Ben Mook

N Korea Foreign Trade MagSesame Workshop voiced concern Wednesday after a North Korean government-owned trade publication highlighting a toy company’s apparent offerings came to light that appear to include unlicensed Sesame Street characters.

The photos appeared in the latest issue of Foreign Trade of the Democratic People’s Republic of Korea, a quarterly publication highlighting manufacturers of products ranging from plush toys and “Gold Liquor” to “cornhusk shoes.” On page 13 of the publication is a profile of Kyonghung Trading Corp., a 7-year-old manufacturer of plush toys, some bearing the likenesses of Cookie Monster, Big Bird and Elmo.

In an email to Voice of America, which ran the story, Sesame Workshop said “we believe the toys pictured are unauthorized.”

But, on his Twitter feed Thursday, Felix Abt, author of A Capitalist in North Korea: My Seven Years in the Hermit Kingdom cautioned that the picture did not equal proof the North Korean company was producing illegal knock-offs of Sesame Street characters. “Where is the evidence? A picture in a DPRK magazine does not prove it was made there. OEM manufacturers everywhere keep many samples,” he tweeted at VOA.

Sesame Workshop did not say whether it had or was going to pursue legal action against Kyonghung.

Sesame said it has not faced a major copyright infringement case outside the United States in the last few years. The nonprofit group said it takes “appropriate legal actions” in response to infringements when it believes they can be “effective.”

And, as the Voice of America points out, litigating an intellectual properties case against manufacturers in the hermit state would be difficult considering the U.S. and North Korea are still technically at war. Although an armistice was signed to end the 1950-53 Korean War, a formal peace treaty was never signed.

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