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The Bizarre Way NCIS Led To A Lawsuit For CBS

The original "NCIS" is currently airing its 19th season, which is set to conclude on January 24, 2022. When Season 19 of "NCIS" ends, it will mark 426 episodes in the show's run so far, not including spinoff series like "NCIS: Los Angeles," "NCIS: New Orleans," and "NCIS: Hawai'i." In those 400+ episodes, fans have gotten to know and love Leroy Jethro Gibbs (Mark Harmon) and his team of Naval Criminal Investigators. 

In addition to spinoffs, "NCIS" has generated plenty of merchandise for CBS. One of the running jokes on the series involved forensic analyst Abby Sciuto (Pauley Perrett) owning a stuffed animal named "Bert the Farting Hippo." It first appeared on the show in 2003 and became a popular recurring "character." 

Behind the scenes, Bert was the subject of a copyright dispute, which then led to a lawsuit with the stuffed animal's manufacturer. Here's what went down between CBS and Bert's manufacturer, Folkmanis, Inc.

Four words: Bert the Farting Hippo

According to a 2014 lawsuit filed by Folkmanis Inc., CBS had profited unfairly off their stuffed animal design, a "3D soft-sculptural work." 

Folkmanis created "Bert the Farting Hippo" in 2002. He first appeared on "NCIS" one year later. Producers used the Folkmanis stuffed animal as a prop, adding a choke collar to the design and dubbed in farting sound effects on the show. 

When Folkmanis obtained a copyright restriction on the design in 2009, the CBS Store approached the company and contracted it to produce "Bert the Farting Hippo" merchandise. Folkmanis issued a second hippo design, identical to the first but with an added choke collar and a sound box.  

In the lawsuit, Folkmanis alleged that CBS had begun importing identical hippo stuffed animals from China in 2012, in violation of their production agreement. The suit asked for $733,000 (via The Hollywood Reporter). The companies settled two years later (via Law360).