Family Guy Wishes Upon a Lawsuit

'Toon producers sued by music publishing company over claims that allegedly anti-Semitic song parody damaged reputation of beloved Pinocchio tune

By Gina Serpe Oct 04, 2007 4:49 PMTags

Peter Griffin may need a Jew, but Fox needs a lawyer. And one music publishing company needs a sense of humor.

Bourne Co., which owns the rights to the Oscar-winning Pinocchio song "When You Wish Upon a Star," has filed a copyright breach lawsuit against Fox and the Family Guy creator and producers, claiming they illegally lifted the tune and damaged the company by repurposing the song with "anti-Semitic lyrics."

The Family Guy's version, "I Need a Jew," appeared in an episode of the animated series titled "When You Wish Upon a Weinstein" and was sung by patriarch Peter Griffin upon realizing he needed to get his finances in order.

Bourne, which filed the lawsuit Wednesday in Manhattan's U.S. District Court, claimed the song was "a thinly veiled copy" of the original and damaged the tune's standing as a "cultural treasure epitomizing the wonders of childhood."

"With its theme of wholesome hopefulness, the song has gained worldwide status as a classic," the lawsuit read. "By associating Bourne's song with such offensive lyrics and other content in the episode, defendants are harming the value of the song."

"I Need a Jew" was originally intended to be broadcast in a 2000 episode of the series, but the lawsuit claimed Fox did not distribute that particular episode until Nov. 10, 2003, due to its offensive nature, and even then only aired it on the Cartoon Network. The episode has since been rerun in syndication. Family Guy creator Seth MacFarlane also regularly performs the song on the Family Guy Live! tour.

The Family Guy ditty, a fan favorite that has long been available as a ringtone, begins with the lyrics, "Nothing else has worked so far/ So I'll wish upon a star/ Wondrous shining speck of light/ I need a Jew."

It goes on: "Though by many they're abhorred/ Hebrew people I've adored/ Even though they killed my Lord/ I need a Jew."

The New York-based music publishing company claims both its reputation and that of "When You Wish Upon a Star" has been hurt significantly "by associating the famous song with a vile and outrageous anti-Semitic message."

Fox has yet to comment.

However, it's not the company's first time facing such legal action.

A $2 million federal lawsuit was filed against the show by Carol Burnett earlier this year, alleging copyright infringement, statutory violation of right of privacy and misappropriation of name for an segment parodying the actress.

The 2006 episode featured Burnett's Charwoman character working as a janitor in a newly opened Quahog porn shop. Upon spotting her, one of the characters said, "You know when she tugged her ear at the end of the show, she was really saying goodnight to her mom." Another character responded by saying, "I wonder what she tugged to say goodnight to her dad."

In June, the lawsuit was dismissed, with the judge ruling that the controversial episode was protected as parody under the First Amendment.

It didn't stop the judge from making like a TV reviewer, however, writing in his decision that he "fully appreciates how distasteful and offensive the segment is to Ms. Burnett...As Ms. Burnett well knows, it takes far more creative talent to create a character such as the Charwoman than to use such characters in crude parody. Perhaps Ms. Burnett can take some solace in that fact."

Perhaps. And perhaps she should have wished upon a star before going to court.