SW Legal studies in Business

Use of Civil Rights Leader's Name in Obscene Rap Does Not Violate Right of Publicity
Description Trial court threw out a suit brought by civil right's leader Rosa Parks for violation of her right of publicity from the use of her name as the title of a rap music song. The use of her name is musical expression protected by the First Amendment and was not done for the purpose of product endorsement.
Topic Torts
Key Words Right of Publicity; Trademark; Infringement; First Amendment
C A S E   S U M M A R Y
Facts Rosa Parks became famous for her refusal, in 1955, to give up her seat on a bus to a white passenger, as required by Alabama law. Her action, and arrest, helped end segregation on public transportation and was important in the beginnings of the civil rights movement. She was disturbed to find her name as the title of a song that appeared on a rap album issued by the group Outkast. While her name is not used in the song, it appears on the cover of the CD box as a featured song. The refrain in the song is "Ah ha, hush that fuss, everybody move to the back of the bus," a reference to her action in 1955. Parks objected to her name being used without permission on an album that contains "profanity, racial slurs, and derogatory language directed at women," and sued for violation of her right to publicity. Outkast contended it was protected by the First Amendment.
Decision

Summary judgment for defendants. The common law right of publicity applies to the use of a celebrity's identity in promotion of products and other commercial interests. It does not authorize a celebrity to prevent the use of her name in an expressive work that is protected by the First Amendment. The song is a musical work, it is not a commercial advertisement for the sale of goods or services. There is also no case for defamation or a violation of the Lanham Act.

Citation Parks v. LaFace Records, 76 F.Supp.2d 775 (E.D. Mich., 1999)

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