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.

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Companies: taco bell

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Comments on “Dear 50 Cent: Did I Just Violate Your Trademark?”

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36 Comments
Mark Regan (user link) says:

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.

Eric Goldman (profile) says:

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.

DanC says:

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.

hegemon13 says:

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.

Anonymous Coward says:

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.

shmengie says:

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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