North Korea Plagiarizes Sesame Street

A company in North Korea, a country known for faked U.S. currency, unicorn sightings and TIME's Person of the Year award, appears to have moved into the lucrative business of plagiarizing Big Bird.

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Big Bird and other Sesame Street puppet charactors pose next to temporary street sign November 9, 2009 at West 64th Street and Broadway in New York on the eve of the 40th anniversary of the broadcast of the children's television show.

A company in North Korea, a country known for faked U.S. currency, unicorn sightings and TIME’s Person of the Year award, appears to have moved into the lucrative business of plagiarizing Big Bird.

The Kyonghung Trading Corporation is advertising its own, unauthorized versions of Sesame Street stuffed toys, featuring characters like Big Bird, Cookie Monster and Elmo, in the North Korean quarterly Foreign Trade magazine. The company was established in 2005 and “employs a large number of toy experts and skilled workers with elaborate craftsmanship,”Kyonghung’s ad, spotted by NK News, reads. “Its annual output is hundreds of thousands of pieces.” The Pyongyang-based company is been producing the counterfeit toys for export abroad, prompting condemnation by Sesame Street copyright holdersSesame Workshop.

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Sesame Workshop said it believed the toys were “unauthorized” in an emailed statement to Voice of America, adding that the North Korean knockoffs look “confusingly similar” to the licensed stuffed Big Birds manufactured by the New Jersey-based toymaker GUND.

U.S. sanctions against North Korea do not allow outsourcing to the repressive North Korean regime. In 2011, a BBC investigation revealed that some cashmere sweaters labelled “Made in Scotland” were in fact manufactured by North Korean workers at a Mongolian factory under questionable working conditions. North Korean workers in Mongolia “are monitored closely by ‘minders’ from their government, and many are believed to be subject to DPRK government pressure because of family members left behind in North Korea,” a U.S. diplomatic cable released by Wikileaks revealed. “The workers reportedly do not routinely receive direct and full salary payments.”

Since the U.S. and North Korea don’t have diplomatic relations, little can be done to prevent further counterfeiting. The case is reminiscent of another incident in July last year, when the U.S. media giant Walt Disney complained when the country’s 30 year-old dictator Kim Jong Un made a stage appearance in Pyongyang along with unlicensed versions of Mickey Mouse and Winnie the Pooh.

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