Law School Case Brief
Parks v. LaFace Records - 329 F.3d 437 (6th Cir. 2003)
In order to prevail on a false advertising claim under § 43(a) (15 U.S.C.S. § 1125(a)) of the Lanham Act, a celebrity must show that use of his or her name is likely to cause confusion among consumers as to the "affiliation, connection, or association" between the celebrity and the defendant's goods or services or as to the celebrity's participation in the "origin, sponsorship, or approval" of the defendant's goods or services. 15 U.S.C.S. § 1125(a)(1)(A). Consumer confusion occurs when consumers believe that the products or services offered by the parties are affiliated in some way, or when consumers make an incorrect mental association between the involved commercial products or their producers. A "likelihood" means a "probability" rather than a "possibility" of confusion.
OutKast, a "rap" music duo, recorded a song and used Rosa Parks’ name as the title. Parks sued LaFace Records, a record producer, and OutKast, as well as several other named affiliates for violating § 43(a) (15 U.S.C.S. § 1125(a)) of the Lanham Act, intruding on her common law right to publicity, and committing defamation, and tortious interference with a business relationship. The United States District Court for the Eastern District of Michigan at Ann Arbor granted summary judgment to defendants, and Parks appealed.
Did the defendants violate § 43(a) (15 U.S.C.S. § 1125(a)) of the Lanham Act by using Rosa Parks’ name as the title of their song?
The United States Court of Appeals concluded that the district court erred in granting defendants-appellees' motion for summary judgment on the Lanham Act and under the common law right of publicity claims. The Court concluded that the district court properly granted summary judgment in favor of defendants on plaintiff Rosa Parks' state law claims of defamation and tortious interference with a business relationship.
The Court applied the Rogers test for balancing defendants' First Amendment interests with the protections of the Lanham Act. The Court found that the artistic relationship between the title and the content of the song was not obvious and was "open to reasonable debate." The composers did not intend the song to be about Parks, and the lyrics were not about her. Reasonable persons could have concluded that there was no relationship between Parks’ name and the content of the song. Defendants cries of "artist" and "symbol" as reasons for appropriating Parks’ name for a song title did not absolve them from potential liability. The appellate court found that the question of that liability, however, should have been determined by the trier of fact, and not as a matter of law on a motion for summary judgment. Parks’ defamation claim failed because the song was not about her, and did not make any factual statements about her. Parks’ intentional interference with a business relationship claim also failed because there was no contract breach or business breakdown at issue.
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