Campaign Says It Was Duped Into Believing Morgan Freeman Would Do A Political Ad For Their Candidate

from the publicity-rights? dept

Apparently, the campaign of BJ Lawson, who just lost in his bid to take a Congressional seat away from Rep. David Price in North Carolina, claimed that actor Morgan Freeman did the voiceover on their recent campaign ad:
The campaign claimed that the ad was "resonating" with voters. However, after the press started asking about the ad, Lawson's campaign announced that Freeman had recorded the voiceover for the ad (at less than his usual rates, implying his further support of Lawson's campaign), Freeman denounced the campaign as lying, saying that he did not record the commercial, does not support the candidate and that "no one who represents me ever has ever authorized the use of my name, voice or any other likeness in support of Mr. Lawson or his candidacy."

Following that, the Lawson campaign pulled down its press release announcing that Freeman had done the ad, and replaced it with an announcement claiming they were scammed by a contractor named MEI Political, and going so far as to actually post the contract and emails that had gone back and forth over this (which show a fee of $4,500, which you have to assume is way below Freeman's going rate):

If you look at the emails the campaign had initially suggested a play on the "Priceless" Mastercard commercials, and the guy from MEI warns them that Mastercard has been known to sue over such copying, so at least that time MEI knew to warn about potential intellectual property issues.

The guy from MEI Political, Ben Mathis, has responded with a press release and by releasing other emails himself, claiming that all along he was clear that it was Morgan Freeman's "voice double" and stating that the campaign could not claim Morgan Freeman made the ad:
Reading through all of this, it does sound like there was some pretty serious miscommunications going on. From what's been presented by both sides, it looks like MEI told the Lawson campaign that it had some actual celebrities and some voice doubles, making it clear in the initial email that with the doubles, you couldn't name the celebrities (even though many people would "recognize" the voice). However, it was in a later email that MEI appears to have lumped all of the available "voices" together in one list, and the Lawson campaign either did not remember the difference or chose to ignore it. However, it sure does look like the contract the two parties signed flat-out names Morgan Freeman, and not his double, which could put MEI in hot water. MEI also claims that it made clear, via a phone conversation, not to use Freeman's name, and the Lawson campaign did so anyway. Also, amusingly, he asks them to keep his name out of it, which the campaign clearly did not do.

Of course, it will be interesting to see if any lawsuits actually come out of this, and who, exactly, sues whom? Freeman, conceivably, could have a publicity rights claim against the campaign and against MEI. The campaign could have a suit against MEI as well if it can make the argument that the contract indicates it would actually be Freeman, not his voice double. And, you could even see how MEI might have a case against the campaign, after the campaign claimed it was "tricked" by "a political mercenary." Of course, with the election over, and Lawson losing, they all might just let it slide... Either way, while some might claim this is a perfect example of where publicity rights make sense, it seems like good old traditional fraud statutes and contract law could handle any necessary legal lifting here instead.
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Filed Under: bj lawson, contracts, morgan freeman, publicity rights
Companies: mei political

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  1. identicon
    Matt K., 3 Nov 2010 @ 12:35pm

    How many campaigns were doing this?

    Apparently Scott Walker's successful re-election campaign also used Not Morgan Freeman. See here:

    That story suggests that the agency that created the Wisconsin ad is local, where MEI seems to be in California.

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