(NECN: Jack Thurston, Burlington, Vt.) - Inside a classroom at the University of Vermont's School of Business Administration Thursday, professor Allison Kingsley had a tricky topic to discuss with students.
"A pornography company," she jokingly whispered, as many in the classroom chuckled.
Kingsley was talking about the legal dust-up between what is arguably Vermont's most famous company, Ben & Jerry's, and a line of pornographic films called Ben & Cherry's. The movies use logos and fonts very similar to the ice cream brand's, as well as titles borrowed from dessert names, including "Peanut Butter D-Cup" and "Chocolate Fudge Babes."
"This is, I guess, a silly kind of debate we're having about ice cream versus pornography, but there are real financial implications to it," Kingsley said.
Kingsley wasn't surprised to hear Ben & Jerry's claim the X-rated movies are smearing its reputation and could impact dessert sales. It's suing, and hopes to block the production of more adult movies with ice cream themes.
"In general I don't think anyone would get confused and think it has anything to do with Ben & Jerry's brand image," said Kayce Massey, who runs a chain of six adult novelty stores in Vermont and New Hampshire.
Massey’s stores, called Good Stuff, do not sell the titles named in the suit, but she said the porn industry has a long history of making parodies of mainstream entertainment. She pointed to adult films based on comic book superheroes like Captain America and Disney's popular Pirates of the Caribbean story lines.
"In general, these [pornographic] movies are more for fun than everything, so it's just a way to be comical about the whole deal."
Massey noted that Ben & Jerry's has its own history of using risqué flavors, like 2011’s "Schweddy Balls.” That was inspired by a skit on “Saturday Night Live.”
Ben & Jerry's declined an interview request from New England Cable News, but issued this written statement:
"Ben & Jerry's filed a lawsuit on Wednesday, September 05, 2012 to halt the production and sale of pornographic material which utilized Ben & Jerry's likeness. The ice cream maker acted to protect its company, brand, products and image. This is a clear cut issue where the video company is imitating Ben & Jerry's logo, flavor names and trade dress to sell their products. We have taken prompt legal action to stop the manufacturing and sale of these materials."
Back in the University of Vermont classroom, NECN asked the business students about the debate. Through an unscientific show of hands, most students were on the side of the ice cream company, but a few were with the porno brand. They argued a few steamy movies could never melt such a major player in the freezer aisle. The issue may be left up to a federal court in Manhattan to decide.
According to the Associated Press, a message left with defendants Rodax Distributors and Caballero Video wasn't immediately returned.