Justinian C. Lane, Esq.
Let Justice Be Done, Though the Heavens May Fall

Justinian Lane's Blog

Justinian's Blog

50 Cent's Frivolous Lawsuit against Taco Bell

The Wall Street Journal reports that 50 Cent is suing Taco Bell:

Now, 50 Cent is trying to provide a little more for himself — through legal means. He’s suing Taco Bell, a division of Yum! Brands Inc., for, among other things, trademark infringement, alleging that the restaurant drafted a fake letter (attached at the end of the complaint) purporting to ask Jackson to change his name to “79 Cent,” “89 Cent” or “99 Cent” in order to publicize its “79-89-99 Cent Why Pay More Value Menu.”

Taco Bell released the letter to the national press in June before sending it to Jackson, the complaint alleges. “Simply put, Taco Bell knew that it would likely have had to pay Jackson a multi-million-dollar fee to get his endorsement, even if he had agreed to do it — which is in doubt,” says the suit, which was filed by Reed Smith’s Peter D. Raymond and Wallace B. Neel. “Rather than face rejection or pay fair value, Taco Bell chose to steal his endorsement and to enjoy all the publicity of being associated with a mega-star while bearing none of the costs.”

A spokesman for Taco Bell said: “We made a good faith, charitable offer to 50 Cent to change his name to either 79, 89 or 99 Cent for one day by rapping his order at a Taco Bell, and we would have been very pleased to make the $10,000 donation to the charity of his choice.”

Source: Law Blog - WSJ.com : 50 Cent Looking for Big Change Outta Taco Bell

Taco Bell made a legitimate offer to 50 Cent: If he "rapped" his order at a Taco Bell location, Taco Bell would (a) donate $10,000 to the charity of his choice, and (b) give free food to all the patrons of that Taco Bell.  There is nothing improper about this offer.  The complaint makes much ado of the fact that Taco Bell published this letter before mailing it to 50 Cent.  So what?  Contract law doesn't make offers invalid if they're published to a wide audience. 

The frivolity doesn't stop there.  According to the lawsuit, the "low-end" Taco Bell diluted the value of the 50 Cent brand by asking him to endorse their restaurant.  Celebrities are asked to endorse products all the time.  If for some reason they're not interested in endorsing the product, they decline the offer.  Does it really make sense to then allow the celebrity to sue the company seeking the endorsement? 

Playboy Magazine routinely makes generous offers to celebrities to pose in the magazine, including recently to Ashlee Simpson and the stars of Desperate Housewives.  No one in their right mind thinks that these public offers means these celebrities have endorsed the magazine.  Similarly, no one in their right  mind should think that 50 Cent endorsed Taco Bell because they made him an offer. 

Did Taco Bell imitate 50 Cent by talking about their "79-89-99 Cent" menu?  Sure.  But 50 Cent hasn't trademarked referring to plural sums of money in the singular - just when it happens to be 50 Cent(s). 

This lawsuit is frivolous, and the worst part about it is that most proposals for damage caps wouldn't apply to it because he's seeking economic damages.  You tell me if it's fair that under tort reform proposals, Taco Bell would only be liable for $250,000 in noneconomic damages if someone died from their food, but may have to pay millions to 50 Cent for making him an endorsement offer.