SHANGHAI — The Shanghai Expo mascot Haibao, a plump sky blue cartoon figure shaped like a stick person, is the latest target of claims event organizers may have "borrowed" some creativity for the event.
Chinese Internet chat rooms are all atwitter over suggestions Haibao looks suspiciously like Gumby, the longtime American TV cartoon character.
China's generally lax enforcement of copyright protections can be a sore point for companies whose trademarks, products or technology get copied without permission. But an appliance maker in central China named Xinxiang Haibao Electrical Appliance Co. whose logo is almost identical to the Expo's Haibao, says it's delighted with the free publicity.
"We have absolutely no idea why the Shanghai Expo decided to use almost the same image as our logo for its mascot, and also our company's name," said a manager with Henan Haibao E-Appliances Co., who gave only his surname, Jiang.
"Frankly, it was a surprise for us, and the biggest ever advertising for free!" he said.
Jiang said his company, founded in 1991, began using the logo in 2000, two years before Shanghai was named a site for the World Expo. Haibao the mascot was announced in 2008.
Xinxiang Haibao's website shows its "Sea Fairy" freezer cases, with a Haibao figure flexing his muscles and wearing a red cape.
In the lead up to the World Expo, which begins Saturday and runs for six months, Shanghai has put up dozens of Haibao statues and countless posters, signboards and other images – in a wild variety of costumes and poses.
The city of 20 million will get an extra two days of May Day holidays, in addition to May 1, to help alleviate congestion and security concerns as dignitaries and other VIPs gather for lavish opening ceremonies.
Expo organizers had no immediate comment to questions about the Xinxiang Haibao logo.
The resemblance between Haibao and Gumby, which is flatter, taller and green, became an online chat item this week after Expo officials emphatically denied at a press conference that their mascot has anything to do with the U.S. figure created in the early 1950s.
Most people in China are not familiar with Gumby unless they happen to have watched the television series "Growing Pains," where the figure can be seen in some scenes.
"I've never seen Gumby, and I don't watch TV or 'Growing Pains.' I had no idea what Gumby was until someone from the media showed me. However, they don't look alike. They're totally different!" one of the Expo mascot's designers, Shao Longtu, told a SMGBB, an online broadcasting network of Shanghai Media Group.
The brouhaha over Haibao followed a decision announced last week to cancel use of a Shanghai Expo song, "2010, Waiting for You," after Internet users noticed its tune was nearly identical to that of Japanese singer-songwriter Mayo Okamoto's 1997 ballad, "Stay the Way You Are."
A notice on the Expo website cited "copyright issues" as the reason for suspending the song, a promotional number which featured Hong Kong action star and singer Jackie Chan and other Chinese celebrities.
Okamoto said Expo organizers belatedly asked permission to use the melody, and issued a statement saying she was "honored" to have a chance to cooperate with the event. But it was unclear if the song would be used again.
Some say they see a resemblance between the imposing red Chinese national pavilion, which is shaped like an ancient crown, and part of Japan's national pavilion for the 1992 Expo in Seville, Spain. Overall, however, the buildings are not alike.
Not all commentators said they believed Haibao resembled Gumby. But Haibao, whose name means "sea treasure," is said to be based on the Chinese character "ren," for person, a two-legged stick figure, though without arms.
Associated Press researcher Ji Chen contributed to this report.