Still Gotta Pay My Taxes and They Give Us No Pity

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I'm saddened to see that a pivotal figure in the fight for civil rights, Rosa Parks, is going ahead with a lawsuit that shows little regard for civil liberties… now with the Supreme Court's blessing. She's suing hip-hop artists OutKast over their song "Rosa Parks."

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  1. Didn’t she earn the right to file a ridiculous lawsuit?

  2. because rosa parks, who is an ICON and a living legend – and a fixture in the social studies texts i was weaned on/brainwashed by – is trying to stifle artistic liberty and free speech?

    at least, that’s why i think it’s depressing and all-around terrible. people who identify as “liberarians” might feel differently, or have different reasons.

  3. “Don’t get me wrong, she did the right thing but I think her motivation for refusing to give up her seat had very little to do with civil rights and very much to do with Rosa Parks.”

    that’s the same place all thrusts for liberty and freedom come from. you don’t have the right to fuck with me and coerce me when i haven’t fucked nor coerced you or my neighbors. it’s not a pretty collection of words but it’s a lot more real than most political philosophizing on the matter.

  4. Joe, the Libertarian point of view is that acting in one’s self interest is good, so long as you don’t violate other people’s rights along the way. So the Libertarian criticism of Rosa Parks here is that Outkast has the right to use her name in their song. Even if suing them is good for her, she has no right to do it. In Libertarian theory, individual rights trump “the general welfare”.

    As to whether Outkast has the right to use her name in their song… I don’t know… but my inclination is that they do.

  5. I thought Rosa Parks had filed this ridiculous lawsuit five years ago, when Outkast’s Aquamini was first released, only to have a judge throw it out because she is a public figure who can’t reasonably expect as much privacy as the average Joe or Jane. What reason was given for overturning that judge’s perfectly reasonable decision?

  6. A famous name on a cereal has no meaning except as an endorsement […] A song title of “Rosa Parks” doesn’t imply that the song is endorsed by her, but that it’s about her.

    But it’s not about her. It just exploits her name for commercial purposes, like celebrity-endorsed breakfast cereals.

    As a different parallel, if I made an action move with a bunch of nobodies in it and decided to call it “Arnold Schwarzenegger vs. Vin Diesel”, despite the fact that it has nothing to do with either of them and neither of them is in it, I would (quite rightly, in my view) get my ass sued off.

  7. joe,

    I can promote my self-interest by holding someone else up at gunpoint. And a public figure using the government to enforce a spurious “trademark” right to their name is equivalent to that. Any time you use force to promote the “general welfare,” it translates in practical terms into promoting the interests of some at the expense of others. The reason we’re in such sad shape is the small gang of plutocratic thugs who act through the government to promote their “self-interests.”

    Reminds me of a news story Jesse Walker posted on a discussion list: some defendant in a criminal case claimed that he had “intellectual property” in his name, and everyone who used it had to pay him $100,000 for each use, or some other ridiculous amount. He presented the judge with a bill for millions of $$.

  8. “”Arnold Schwarzenegger vs. Vin Diesel”, despite the fact that it has nothing to do with either of them and neither of them is in it, I would (quite rightly, in my view) get my ass sued off.”

    and you’d win, so long as you got decent lawyers. they would have to prove that your useage was more than a title, but included artwork, packaging, advertising, etc that was designed specifically to sell based only on the name alone and to confuse the buyer into thinking it was an endorsed product. just titling a song “arnold swarzenegger vs vin diesel” isn’t harmful or infringing in any sense of the term, unless celebrities really do hate being celebrities deep down inside.

    do you really think you can make the argument that the title “rosa parks” was an actual major factor in people buying that outkast album? she’s an icon, but not a hot property. if i make a reference to james joyce do i owe his estate royalties? does reason owe money every time they parody a song title or use an actor’s name humorously for an article title?

    i mean, c’mon! let’s get with it people!

  9. I haven’t read the SCOTUS opinion yet, but my guess would be that their decision was based on the fact that the song “Rosa Parks” uses her name, and one line (“everybody move to the back of the bus”) to make sure everyone knows they mean her, but otherwise is just another generic rap song about how the Outkast crew kicks a lot of ass and gets laid all the time.

    My impression is that the public figures only lose control over their “public” lives and images. If Outkast had made a song called “Rosa Parks” about how The Man Is Keeping Them Down, with references to Parks, my guess is Parks wouldn’t have been allowed to sue. But they didn’t do that; they made yet another ego-trip rap song and “stole” Parks’ name to sell it.

    As a parallel, Arnold Schwarzenegger is a famous public figure. This does not mean that General Mills can produce a line of Arnold Schwarzenegger Cheerios (“they Terminate your hunger”) without being sued down to a little nub. Nor should they be able to, imo.

  10. But Kevin, the comment I was answering didn’t criticize Parks for doing something evil to advance her self interest. It criticized her for furthering the Civil Rights movement, because her actions were motivated by self interest.

    In a larger sense, couldn’t every black person who supported the civil rights movement be said to be motivated by self interest?

  11. Reminds me of a They Might Be Giants song “XTC vs. Adam Ant”. As far as I know there wasn’t any law suit, but maybe they negotiated rights. I know Weird Al has to get permission to make a parody (the fuck?).

    BTW, Fuck eminem for allowing Weird Al to do the parody for the CD but not the video, what an ass.

  12. Dan-
    Are you suggesting that a reasonable person would assume that a hip-hop track called “Rosa Parks” was endorsed by Rosa Parks? Anyway, the name is arguably part of the content of the song. It doesn’t have to be ABOUT her to invoke what she means in the public consciousness. If I wrote a song about a run-in with the police and called it “Rodney King” or “Sacco and Vanzetti”, that’d obviously be a kind of statement, even if those people never showed up in the song.

  13. “I haven’t read the SCOTUS opinion yet, but my guess would be that their decision was based on the fact that the song “Rosa Parks” uses her name, and one line (“everybody move to the back of the bus”) to make sure everyone knows they mean her, but otherwise is just another generic rap song about how the Outkast crew kicks a lot of ass and gets laid all the time.”

    The very act of appropriating her name seems to add a political dimension to the song. I’m not in the mood to deconstruct the song, but it definitely has at least a shade of meaning beyond documenting Andre 3000 and Big Boi’s exploits.

  14. Rosa Parks is suing, according to the linked article, on the basis of her “publicity and trademark rights” to her name. This is exactly the opposite of claiming that the song has intruded on her private life; she’s saying, in effect, that the song has diluted the value that she could otherwise get from her own name.

    But a song with a person’s name on it is a very different context from a cereal with a person’s name on it, even without the common argument that “speech” rights are somehow superior to “commercial” rights. A famous name on a cereal has no meaning except as an endorsement. By producing “Schwarzenegger Crunchies,” a cereal company would be implying (falsely, if done without his permission) that Schwarzenegger had lent his endorsement to the cereal. A song title of “Rosa Parks” doesn’t imply that the song is endorsed by her, but that it’s about her.

    If the song made no reference to her at all but only used her name for sales value, then she might have a legitimate case. But then she could not claim that the song was defaming her, as she is claiming. I can’t tell from the information given what the defamation claim is based on.

  15. Rosa Parks is still alive?

  16. It would be like some one using the name Limbaugh, just to sell books about big fat idiots.

  17. awesome song. had them play it at my wedding reception, and i’m some white guy from MN.

    Only one line about sex.

  18. I know Weird Al has to get permission to make a parody (the fuck?).

    No, he doesn’t, actually. He usually seeks it, just to be nice, but it is neither legally nor morally required.

  19. outkast are nuts, but they make the most interesting major label hip hop. that title used to belong to dead prez, but they got dropped by sony a while back.

  20. If I wanted to spend that time, I could come up with a hundred activists/politicians/actors/actresses names that have been used in songs. Big freakin’ whoopie.

    I have a sneaky feeling that the bus incident was a WHOLE lot more about Rosa Parks that it was about civil rights. Don’t get me wrong, she did the right thing but I think her motivation for refusing to give up her seat had very little to do with civil rights and very much to do with Rosa Parks.

    If she cared very much about civil rights she should applaude Outkast for keeping her name fresh in the minds of America’s youth. But no.

  21. Why would a libertarian have a problem with someone asserting her self interest? Why would a libertarian consider such an assertion of self interest to be incompatible with the advancement of the general welfare?

  22. Ooops, sorry, joe. By “promoting her self-interest,” I thought you were referring to her legal action over the song. I should have read the thread more carefully.

    And on the subject of ethically questionable use of one’s status as a civil rights icon: Compared to the Anheuser-Busch shakedowns of Jesse Jackson or the five-star widow grandstanding of Coretta King, Rosa Parks is the very model of dignity.

  23. BTW, on the last point: National Lampoon once ran “Articles of Impeachment” of Kennedy, drawn up on Nov. 21, 1963. I wonder if they’ve ever done divorce papers on MLK from the day before his shooting.

  24. Joe,

    You’re right, but Kevin is too, and *maybe* Questioneer has a point. Ms. Parks’ motives for asserting her rights have nothing to do with those rights themselves, absolutely true. But note that Questioneer is applying his skepticism concerning Ms. Parks’ noble intentions to her protecting herself from defamation above educating people about what she did.

    Perhaps a better reply to Questioneer’s point is that if the song doesn’t say diddly about the issues Ms. Parks faced and addressed, then maybe just “keeping her name fresh” is worthless.

  25. that shoulda said:

    “…Questioneer is applying his skepticism concerning Ms. Parks’ noble intentions to her having more interest in protecting herself from defamation than educating people about what she did.”

    That may still not be the most easily understood prose ever written, but at least it makes some sense!

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    DATE: 01/27/2004 01:56:34
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