Thorny issue of copyright brings cuddly cacti to court

Makers of children’s character ‘Kishkashta’ say Israeli Olympic mascot Shpitzik too similar.

KISHKASHTA_390 (photo credit: Oren Golan)
(photo credit: Oren Golan)
When two sabras settle a dispute in court, things often get prickly – but the Tel Aviv District Court is facing a thornier case than usual as children’s TV star “Kishkashta,” the singing cactus, embarks on a legal battle with Shpitzik, the Israel Olympic Committee’s prickly pear mascot.
Israeli Educational Television (IET), which owns the rights to Kishkashta, has filed an urgent request with the Tel Aviv District Court asking that the IOC be prevented from using Shpitzik. The court is expected to rule on the matter within the next two weeks.
At the heart of the spiny issue is whether Shpitzik, the 2-meter high cactus mascot of the IOC, looks too much like his spiny, thick-skinned 35-year-old felt puppet relative, Kishkashta, the star of IET’s children’s broadcasts on Channel 23.
Both Kishkashta and Shpitzik are “tzabar,” a prickly pear cacti, a genus noted for its tenacity, resilience and tendency to grow back if cut down, and thus the origin of the nickname “sabra,” meaning a Jew born in Israel.
Kishkashta made his first TV appearances in the 1970s, as part of the children’s show Ma Pit’om! (“What on Earth!”), and became known for his deep, somewhat lugubrious voice and signature song “They call me Kishkashta.”
In December, the IOC chose Shpitzik, a jaunty cactus clad in Israel’s official Olympic strip, as the mascot that will accompany the Israeli delegation to the London 2012 Olympic Games later this year. IET said it felt Shpitzik bore too close a resemblance to Kishkashta, and held a series of meetings with the IOC to offer the use of the Kishkashta image.
When the IOC refused, Educational Television filed a request to the court, the TV company said.
“Kishkashta is the intellectual property of Educational Television, and as such enjoys copyright and trademark protection,” the request said.
IOC spokesman Bruria Bigman said in response that the committee regretted the lawsuit.
“We regret that Educational Television has decided to declare a dispute against Shpitzik, the chosen, original and popular mascot of the Olympic delegation,” Bigman said. “We are acting according to legal advice, and while this issue is being discussed in court we will not to express our opinion in the media.”