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Sunday, 16 July 2017

Hip hop artist sends Coca-Cola letter of demand in a music video

It happened in Canada...

A hip hop artist with the stage name B. Rich (real name Brendan Richmond) made a music video a few years back, called "Out for a Rip". It has more than 12 million views on YouTube as of today.

One day, Mr Richmond was informed that Coca-Cola has marketed its famous Coca-Cola drink in packaging that says, "Out for a Rip". (This was the name of his song.)

The hip hop artist had trademarked the phrase a few years back, and he wasn't pleased. 

The Canadian hip hop artist, Mr Brendan Richmond, a.k.a. B. Rich, holding a Coca-Cola bottle bearing the infringing words, "Out for a Rip"

So, he asked all his Facebook friends to post photos of themselves with Coca-Cola bottles that have this new "Out for a Rip" packaging.

His attorney, Rob Kettridge, has issued a letter of demand, which is incorporated into this novel music video, which you can find on YouTube as "Out for a Sip". (See below for the video)

Attorney Mr Rob Kettridge appears in the music video. See if you can spot the attorney.

Settlement Possible?

Right now, Mr Richmond's music video is getting covered by Canadian news agencies. So, it stands to reason that the matter would have come to the attention of Coca-Cola.

In his letter of demand, (or "video of demand"), Mr Richmond demands:
  1. A dump truck full of Coca-Cola bottles dumped on his front lawn
  2. Couple of tickets to the Leafs
  3. Couple of tickets to the Jays
  4. All of his parking tickets paid
  5. A new paint job on his truck
  6. A new pair of skates
  7. Roundtrip airfare to see his cousin in Saskatoon
But at the end of the video, text written by his attorney appears. The last paragraph says,
Contact me no later than August 1, 2017 to discuss settlement of this matter. If you do not wish to discuss settlement, we require that you immediately cease using the OUT FOR A RIP mark, recall all OUT FOR A RIP bottles, and take immediate steps to preserve all relevant evidence in anticipation of potential litigation.

This seems to mean, his demands that he rapped may be nothing more than "placeholder text" for the real deal (i.e. the settlement that his attorney is now proposing).

The terms of the settlement have yet to be settled, otherwise why else would they want to discuss the settlement? It may be that the settlement is expected to be bigger than a truckload of Coca-Cola bottles.

Anything is possible, but at this stage, it's a great idea for Mr Richmond to negotiate for long-term sponsorship for his concerts etc.

Settlement out of court is always an option, especially to save time and costs.

What I Think About This Matter

I think that the music video is a very smart move, especially since the phrase had already been trademarked.

To make it clear, I think that trademarking the phrase is a brilliant idea because you never know, as a recording artist, when someone will use your chorus or one of your verses to market a product. 

I also think that the music video will circulate far and wide over social media, where it will shame the drinks and beverages giant into some kind of settlement.
Images of Coca-Cola bottles bearing the infringing words, "Out for a Rip", from the hip hop artist's fans.

However, I also think that trademark laws actually allow similar trademarks to be registered in separate classes, if there is no danger of confusion in the public's eye. In this case, the hip hop artist had registered the trademark in the class relevant to drinks and beverages... to Coca-Cola's disadvantage. But perhaps some other manufacturer may consider making use of the trademark for an unrelated class of products.

The exception is if the trademark has become popular, then whether or not it is in the same class becomes irrelevant. For example, I don't think that you could register "Coca-Cola" for a brand of underwear, by arguing that Coca-Cola is primarily applied to drinks, and therefore members of the public will not be confused.... that'd be a flimsy, flimsy argument.

Incidentally,  it may actually be a future trend for artists to trademark their lyrics. Taylor Swift, in 2015, trademarked some of her lyrics, including "this sick beat", "swiftmas", "a girl named girl", "and I'll write your name", "blank space", and "1989". (That last trademark, 1989, has left me befuddled. How could it be infringed? But I can certainly imagine a co-working space called "blank space"...)

The short and long of it is, if you are a recording artist, it may pay to trademark your lyrics.
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