by Mike Masnick
Fri, Nov 21st 2008 12:15pm
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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