The Moscow Olympics Mascot Misha the Bear Part 2: The Creator at Odds with Property Rights in the Soviet Union

viktor-chizhikov
Viktor Chizhikov

Viktor Chizhikov is bitter, even today. His creation, Misha the Bear, emerged as the best out of 40,000 submissions for a contest to select the mascot for the 1980 Moscow Olympics.

The mascot born out of the Communist bloc’s greatest power, the Soviet Union, ironically became the first to be a globally commercial success. And Chizhikov said that he was promised the copyright, didn’t get it, and thus never saw any royalties from the stuffed toys, t-shirts and television programs related to Misha the Bear. “I hate to talk about mascots,” he told The Wall Street Journal. “This is like a thorn in my heel.”

The renowned author of over 100 children’s books in the Soviet Union, Chizhikov insists he was promised copyright ownership over Misha. He has taken various parties to court for use of Misha, particularly over television programs that feature the famous bear.

And when the Winter Olympics came to Russia in 2014, Chizhikov was indignant over one of the Sochi mascots, Mishka the Bear. According to Inside the Games, he told a radio program the following:

It’s exactly the same as mine: the eyes, the nose, the mouth, the smile, though it’s askew. They pulled around all the details of my bear. The eyes are rounded the same way, the nose is a little altered and the smile has the same characteristics.

I can’t help but wonder what property rights or IP rights law was like in the Soviet Union, a state based on the ideology that the means of production are socially owned. But Chizhikov may be tilting at windmills, or at least fighting the wrong front. According to the Wall Street Journal article, it is not the national organizing committee that owns the IP rights to such items as the design of a mascot, it is the International Olympic Committee (IOC).

In the end, Chizhikov said he received about 2,000 rubles (about USD1,600 at the time) for his original design of Misha…as well as credit for kicking off the race for commercial cash, even before the famously profitable 1984 Los Angeles Olympics.