Dear 50 Cent: Did I Just Violate Your Trademark?

from the morons-in-a-hurry-eating-a-chalupa dept

A bunch of readers submitted the story about the ongoing lawsuit between the rapper 50 Cent and Taco Bell. Taco Bell started running an ad campaign, where they jokingly sent a public letter to 50 Cent asking him to change his name to 79 Cent, 89 Cent or 99 Cent to help publicize a Taco Bell promotional menu. 50 Cent then sued, claiming a trademark violation. This case fascinates me for a few reasons, as it raises some interesting issues. First, you can sort of see where 50 Cent is coming from -- as Taco Bell is using his brand in commerce without his permission -- but I'd argue that it's pretty clear that 50 Cent isn't involved and hasn't endorsed the product (and, yes, even a "moron in a hurry" would hopefully recognize that). Since it's just an "open letter" to the rapper, rather than anything involving him, it should be clear that he's not necessarily involved. If any commercial website (say, a blog) wrote an "open letter" to a celebrity, would that be a violation of publicity rights or trademark? Unlikely. So why would it be so in this case? Even more interesting, of course, is that the lawsuit only served to draw a lot more attention to this whole thing, meaning that Taco Bell is probably pretty pleased about it. Of course, if I were Taco Bell, I might think about adding a single item to the menu that actually costs 50 cents... After all, you can't protect a price.


Reader Comments (rss)

(Flattened / Threaded)

  1.  
    icon
    churchHatesTucker (profile), Nov 21st, 2008 @ 12:38pm

    New menu item

    Chicken Butt...50¢

     

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  2.  
    identicon
    Anonymous Coward, Nov 21st, 2008 @ 12:47pm

    50¢ ass blaster taco

     

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  3.  
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    Just Another Moron in a Hurry (profile), Nov 21st, 2008 @ 12:51pm

    Link?

    Anyone got a link to the commercial?

     

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  4.  
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    Anonymous Coward, Nov 21st, 2008 @ 12:56pm

    Why bother? You just don't get it.

     

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  5.  
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    Johnny Canada, Nov 21st, 2008 @ 1:13pm

    In this case I would say 50 Cent should win.

    Taco Bell is profiting (or trying to) of his name (trademark).

     

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  6.  
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    Anonymous Coward, Nov 21st, 2008 @ 1:13pm

    Are you talking to me?

    Who's not bothering what, and who doesn't get what?

     

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  7.  
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    Dave Barnes, Nov 21st, 2008 @ 1:13pm

    Mmm... Taco Bell

    I am so hungry for my "Fourth Meal".

     

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  8.  
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    Anonymous Coward, Nov 21st, 2008 @ 1:14pm

    Re:

    So all public letters to all celebrities are illegal? Or do you mean that public letters are OK as long as they're kept private?

     

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  9.  
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    Anonymous Coward, Nov 21st, 2008 @ 1:23pm

    Re: Are you talking to me?

    Clearly he's talking about you and your lack of understanding.

     

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  10.  
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    Anonymous Coward, Nov 21st, 2008 @ 1:24pm

    Re:

    With a name like Canada, I wouldn't be on 50's side of this case if.

     

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  11.  
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    50 Cent, Nov 21st, 2008 @ 1:29pm

    Yes

    You are violating my trademark. You'll be hearing from my lawyer

     

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  12.  
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    amaress, Nov 21st, 2008 @ 1:30pm

    The thing is, it isn't strictly a public letter, it's an advertising campaign. They're trying to pull a fast one by associating 50 cent with them.

    I agree with Johnny Canada, I think this fails the moron in a hurry test.

     

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  13.  
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    jonnyq, Nov 21st, 2008 @ 1:36pm

    Re: Mmm... Taco Bell

    Heh...

    around here Taco Bell closes at 11 p.m. They still have the "4th meal" decals, but they close before midnight...

    Also, 79,89,99 items are marked up 10 cents, so it's 79, 89, 1.09. They still have the 89 and 99 decals on the windows, but (of course) no franchise-provided 1.09 decal.

     

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  14.  
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    PRMan, Nov 21st, 2008 @ 1:44pm

    Celebrities have "special" rights to their name/image/reputation

    You can't sell something using a celebrity's name unless the celebrity agrees. It's a form of trademark infringement.

    In 50 Cent's case, it's an even more obvious violation, since 50 Cent is a trademark instead of his actual name.

    Taco Bell is clearly in the wrong here.

     

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  15.  
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    Mark Regan, Nov 21st, 2008 @ 1:47pm

    On the contrary

    Taco Bell should advertise LOTS of 50 cent items, but then explain in their advertising that they are having to charge 99 cents (almost double) because they are having to pay royalties to "his highness" without naming him out of fear that he will sue them for stealing HIS name.

    What a crock. Certainly the judge will throw this out of his court and award attorney fees to the restaurant. Mr. Fifty Cents voluntarily assumed that name knowing that it is used routinely throughout the country as a PRICE, and that it is reasonable to expect that some folks will confuse HIM with the price because he was stupid enough to pick that name.

    By the way, did the restaurant use his image? If they did, then they might lose.

    Thank God the Rev. Billy Sunday never sued all those competing churches who plastered his last name all over their signs and billboards promoting their services.

     

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  16.  
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    Eric Goldman (profile), Nov 21st, 2008 @ 1:53pm

    Two things

    1) 50 Cent has brought several ridiculous IP lawsuits before. This lawsuit is just the latest.

    2) You wrote "After all, you can't protect a price." Of course you know that EVERYTHING is now protected by IP law, including prices. See CDN Inc. v. Kapes, 197 F.3d 1256 (9th Cir. 1999). http://www.law.cornell.edu/copyright/cases/197_F3d_1256.htm

    Eric.

     

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  17.  
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    tracker1, Nov 21st, 2008 @ 2:20pm

    Fifty Cent Taco Tuesdays

    Sounds like that could work.. ;)

     

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  18.  
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    DanC, Nov 21st, 2008 @ 2:26pm

    Re: Two things

    You wrote "After all, you can't protect a price." Of course you know that EVERYTHING is now protected by IP law, including prices. See CDN Inc. v. Kapes, 197 F.3d 1256 (9th Cir. 1999). http://www.law.cornell.edu/copyright/cases/197_F3d_1256.htm

    While I disagree with the court's decision in the case you linked, it did not establish that prices could be copyrighted. The Red Book's prices are essentially opinions expressed as a dollar figure, not facts. So while the provided case may apply to other pricing guides, it would not apply to a restaurant's menu.

     

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  19.  
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    hegemon13, Nov 21st, 2008 @ 2:41pm

    Seems like infringement

    This definitely seems like legitimate infringement to me. Unlike a blogger writing a funny article, this is directly tying the celebrity's name to a product promotion. And, yes, I think a moron in a hurry could assume that 50 cent gave his endorsement. Generally, when a celebrity is attached to a commercial for a product, that is an endorsement.

     

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  20.  
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    Anonymous Coward, Nov 21st, 2008 @ 2:46pm

    I think this is a double reverse Streisand Effect. Taco Bell knew they would be sued and knew about the Striesand effect so they purposely used the name (which by the way isn't a NAME, its a TRADEMARK). Fifty will lose, Taco Bell will win in the case and win at the cash register.

    At least Fifty has removed any doubt that he might be endorsing Taco Bell. If there was ever any chance for a future endorsement deal its gone now.

    Congratulations on limiting your earning potential.

     

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  21.  
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    Dem0n 1, Nov 21st, 2008 @ 3:09pm

    Re:

    So can the US Mint sue this Mr. 50 Cent for rebranding himself after legal tender? Or Maybe the JFK estate as he clearly is 50¢.

     

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  22.  
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    Meh, Nov 21st, 2008 @ 3:10pm

    Time to run to the border for "50¢ Deflationary Badonkadonk Burritos"!

     

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  23.  
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    shmengie, Nov 21st, 2008 @ 3:43pm

    i'd turn the tables

    if i were taco bell, i'd do a commercial like this: a bunch of taco bell ad guys sitting around talking about different experimental food items they could sell for 50 cents, like toothpaste burritos, pine-flavored tacos, like that. then the boss ad-guy could walk down the line pointing at each item saying, "this 50 cent thing? sucks. this 50 cent thing? no good. this 50 cent thing? awful!"

    then taco bell should just pay up cuz fiddy needs mo bling.

     

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  24.  
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    Anonymous Coward, Nov 21st, 2008 @ 3:53pm

    i have to disagree here, they are using him/his image to promote there product with out his permission, there has to be a law against that.

     

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  25.  
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    TriZz, Nov 21st, 2008 @ 4:13pm

    Re: Re: Two things

    ...plus, couldn't you argue that a price is a fact? I mean, it's true. Fact: If you do you have $.79 + tax then you cannot have Y.

     

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  26.  
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    bobArlington, Nov 21st, 2008 @ 5:39pm

    "Bob"

    Anyone remember Microsoft Bob? Well my name is Bob and I sued MS for use of my name - AND I WAS SUCCESSFUL!! Guess how much the settlement was for?!? That's right! 50 cent!

     

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  27.  
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    50 Cent®, Nov 21st, 2008 @ 6:49pm

    Re: "Bob"

    You'll be hearing from my lawyers, Bob.

     

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  28.  
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    Jorge at KFC, Nov 21st, 2008 @ 7:19pm

    Re: Re: "Bob"

    Pbbt. But will the lawyers have grumbling stomachs, or just be grumbling? Maybe they want something from the delicious 79¢ promotional menu.

     

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  29.  
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    Anonymous Coward, Nov 21st, 2008 @ 9:26pm

    New menu item, 50 Cent Black Eyed Peas with Eminems and Vanilla Ice-cream for desert.

     

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  30.  
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    DS, Nov 22nd, 2008 @ 6:55am

    Empty Paper Bag- $.50

     

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  31.  
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    Anonymous Coward, Nov 22nd, 2008 @ 8:14pm

    Re:

    That's all of thier tacos

     

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  32.  
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    Wolfy, Nov 23rd, 2008 @ 7:40am

    Morons in general

    I know this is off topic, but tailoring our laws to "morons" only encourages the production of more morons.

     

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  33.  
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    Anonymous Coward, Nov 24th, 2008 @ 3:40am

    Re:

    nice, nice baby.

     

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  34.  
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    Anonymous Coward, Nov 24th, 2008 @ 6:08am

    50-Cent probably is afraid that being associated with Taco Bell will shoot his career down just like MC Hammer's. Parachute pants, anyone?

     

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  35.  
    identicon
    Tony, Nov 24th, 2008 @ 6:52am

    They'll settle

    Taco Bell has been sued before over their advertising. They've basically caved every time, even when the lawsuit was stupid. They'll cave this time, too, I bet.

     

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  36.  
    identicon
    Anonymous Coward, Dec 1st, 2008 @ 7:09am

    Re:

    You Stupid! So 50 cent somehow will limit the earning potential of an entire corporation? Bahahahahaha! You fool!

     

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