Israeli actor Dov Glickman is suing Sacha Baron Cohen, the creator of Borat for copyright infringement in using the phrase “Wa Wa Wi Wa”. the phrase was originally used by Glickman at a yellow pages commercial during the 90s, and apparently influenced Cohen, who was familiar to israel and knows hebrew, during his creation.

The lawsuit is a complicated matter, since copyrighting an expression is problematic under the israeli law. Though several companies, including Apple which tried to block companies in using “Pod” in other machines or software and Google which blocked the use of the verb “Googling”. Unlike these two companies, though, Glickman did not have a registered trademark.

The Israeli Court would face a difficult question of whether copyright extends to every bit of speech. Would the Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles sue the Simpsons for the use of “Cowabunga”? That is a difficult question when dealing with this kind of expression.

Freedom of expression may lay to risk here on one hand. On the other hand, did Glickman’s activity cause Cohen to enrich his character unjustly?

Israel’s copyright law is more permissive than the American in several manners. For example, fair use includes parody (which Cohen can claim) and Pastiche. these two are a way for Cohen to avoid paying Glickman the amount sued. (I have yet to read the full lawsuit, when i’ll get it, i’ll link).

Israel’s copyright statutes are not dealt enough in courts, at least in this form. Most of the copyright lawsuits are for lack of credit or for using a full creation. A phrase is not something which most of us will be able to get copyright. Duh!, for example, or even phrases like “Don’t have a cow” or “Chillax” are used often. Of course, once a fictional character gets a catch phrase, they are not usually used by another fictional character without using the phrase’s reputation.

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6 thoughts on “WAWAWIWA, A Lawsuit

  1. There are a few articles I’ve read about this case now, but I like how you’ve dug into the situation more than the other. You’re right about that ‘cowabunga’ catch phrase too – I’m sure if it could be tradesmarked than the guys who did Ninja Turtles would def consider going after the creators of ‘The Simpson’; especially since it has a ton of cash…

    BTW, this Israeli comedian, along with using the phrase in the 1990 yellow pages commercials, also used it on a comdey show he was a part of called “Zehu Zeh”. There’s a photo of this guy and a link to one of those yellow pages commercial videos on an ENN article about this case too, if you’re interested.


    Hope that link isn’t too long. 🙂

    Personally I think he’ll just milk the publicity over this and let it die away without pursuing it in the courts.

    Great post!

  2. Megan,
    Dov Glickman is quite famous in Israel and had many performances on both TV and Movies, he’s not in for the publicity. i sincerely think he’s hurt. the problem is that a lawsuit is not the solution.

    Thanks for the compliments, by the way.

  3. It’s an interesting case, as Glickman already developed an entire character around this flower guy, and there was even a TV show based on it.
    As for the Israeli court, correct me if I’m wrong, but I believe that a similar lawsuit was already filed againts “bituach yashir” because the character used in their commercial (“David Hachi-Tov”) was based on a real person who goes by a similar nickname and uses the same catch phrase. I don’t remember if he won the case though.

  4. There was a Partial decision regarding liability, however one must differentiate between the name part and the slogan, since names might be more protected as civil torts or trade marks than just a slogan.

  5. True, but now we can argue on the question is “David Hachi-Tov” truely a name, or just a slogan.

  6. “Cowabunga” was popularized by “Howdy Doody”, Long before TMNT or even The Simpsons.

    Only reason Michaelangelo or Bart use it was because the phrase was embraced by the Surfer conmunity in like, the 60’s or something…

    Point being, I’m not sure that’s anything Laird and Eastman could ever sue The Simpsons for, as they did not originate the phrase – They used it to ‘flesh out’ Michaelangelo as a surfer-type dude (Similar to what Matt Groening did for Bart’s character).

    Dov Glickman rightfully sued –
    He coined the phrase, and every Israeli who saw Borat sensed that right away.

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