hip hop music

May 13, 2003

Outkast vs. Rosa Parks, Round 2

A new development in Rosa Parks' old lawsuit against Outkast. This seems to be another case where our legal system is assessing a work of art it is poorly equipped to judge.

I'd think it would be clear to most who read this that Outkast was not hoping to trick anyone into thinking this was a product affiliated with Rosa Parks, to capitalize on her "brand" or anything like that. Just as it should have been obvious in 1989 that Luther Campbell was not trying to pretend his booty records were affiliated with the Star Wars franchise, when he named himself Luke Skywalker. But the courts, made up of folks with different cultural sensibilities (and beholden to legal technicalities that can override common sense), had a different interpretation.

Rosa Parks Trumps "Rosa Parks"

A federal appeals court on Monday cast out a ruling in favor of OutKast and reinstated the civil-rights pioneer's lawsuit accusing the Grammy-winning hip-hop duo of profiting off her moniker by appropriating it for the title of their tune "Rosa Parks" and falsely suggesting the song was about her or endorsed by her.

In its ruling, a three-judge panel of the 6th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals in Detroit sided with the 90-year-old Parks and declared that while OutKast is protected by the First Amendment, the Atlanta-based rap outfit still must demonstrate to the court why they decided to name their song after the Detroit resident when the lyrics barely mention her.

"The fact that Defendants cry 'artist' and 'symbol' as reasons for appropriating Rosa Parks' name for a song title does not absolve them from potential liability for, in the words of Shakespeare, filching Rosa Parks' good name," the judges said in their ruling.

The heart of Parks' case is that OutKast used her iconic name for commercial gain without her permission...

..."Rosa Parks" was one of the more popular tracks off OutKast's multiplatinum-selling 1998 Arista release Aquemini, but contains no references to Parks in the song aside from the title and the line, "everybody move to the back of the bus."

OutKast's lawyer, Joe Beck, argued that the rap duo's use of her name and the back-of-the-bus lyric did not constitute false advertising nor infringe on Parks' right to publicity as Parks' attorneys previously claimed. Rather, Beck said that while Parks' act of defiance inspired the line, it was really a symbolic slam to rival rappers looking to surpass OutKast's success...

I must say that choice of title always was a little mysterious to me, as was Bombs Over Baghdad. I often wished, during the recent war, that the latter's lyrics actually related to the title in some way, it could have been put to such great use.

But you might say there's a tradition in Hip-Hop of seemingly topical song titles that have no relation to the actual subject matter: A Tribe Called Quest's "Steve Biko"; LL Cool J's "Def Jam in the Motherland"; and "Free Mumia by KRS with Channel Live, which did a nice bait and switch by mentioning Mumia in the chorus but then devoting the song to a well deserved assault on C. Delores Tucker and her self-serving ilk. Are there any other examples you guys can think of?

Posted by jsmooth995 at May 13, 2003 3:45 PM

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