329 F.3d 437 (6th Cir. 2003), 99-2495, Parks v. LaFace Records

Docket Nº:99-2495
Citation:329 F.3d 437
Party Name:Rosa Parks, Plaintiff
Case Date:May 12, 2003
Court:United States Courts of Appeals, Court of Appeals for the Sixth Circuit

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329 F.3d 437 (6th Cir. 2003)

Rosa Parks, Plaintiff–Appellant,


LaFace Records, et al., Defendants–Appellees.

No. 99-2495

United States Court of Appeals, Sixth Circuit

May 12, 2003

Argued: May 4, 2001

Appeal from the United States District Court for the Eastern District of Michigan at Ann Arbor. No. 99-60256—Barbara K. Hackett, District Judge.

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[Copyrighted Material Omitted]

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[Copyrighted Material Omitted]

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[Copyrighted Material Omitted]

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Johnnie L. Cochran, Jr. (argued & briefed), Cochran, Sherry, Givens & Smith, Los Angeles, CA, Gregory J. Reed, Gregory J. Reed & Associates, Detroit, MI, for Appellant,

Joseph M. Beck (argued & briefed), Christopher J. Kellner, Kilpatrick Stockton LLP, Atlanta, GA, for Appellees.

Before: NORRIS and COLE, Circuit Judges; HOLSCHUH, District Judge.[*]


JOHN D. HOLSCHUH, District Judge.

This is a dispute over the name of a song. Rosa Parks is a civil rights icon who first gained prominence during the Montgomery, Alabama bus boycott in 1955. She brings suit against LaFace Records, a record producer, and OutKast, a "rap" (or "hip-hop") music duo, as well as several other named affiliates, for using her name as the title of their song, Rosa Parks . Parks contends that Defendants' use of her name constitutes false advertising under § 43(a) of the Lanham Act, 15 U.S.C. §1125(a), and intrudes on her common law right of publicity under Michigan state law. Defendants argue that they are entitled to summary judgment because Parks has failed to show any violation of the Lanham Act or her right of publicity. Defendants further argue that, even if she has shown such a violation, their First Amendment freedom of artistic expression should be a defense as a matter of law to each of these claims. Parks also contends that Defendants' conduct renders them liable under Michigan law for defamation and tortious interference with a business relationship; Page 442

Defendants have also denied liability with respect to these claims.

Parks brought this action in a Michigan state court. Defendants subsequently removed the case to the District Court for the Eastern District of Michigan. Following cross-motions for summary judgment, the district court denied Parks' motion for summary judgment and granted summary judgment for Defendants. Parks now appeals the grant of summary judgment for Defendants.

For the reasons hereafter set forth, we believe that, with respect to Rosa Parks' claims under the Lanham Act and under the common law right of publicity, "the evidence is such that a reasonable jury could return a verdict for the nonmoving party." Anderson v. Liberty Lobby, Inc., 477 U.S. 242, 248 (1986). We therefore conclude that the district court erred in granting Defendants' motion for summary judgment on those claims. We conclude, however, that the district court properly granted summary judgment in favor of Defendants on Rosa Parks' state law claims of defamation and tortious interference with a business relationship.


A. Facts

Rosa Parks is an historical figure who first gained prominence as a symbol of the civil rights movement in the United States during the 1950's and 1960's. In 1955, while riding in the front of a segregated bus in Montgomery, Alabama, she refused to yield her seat to a white passenger and move to the back of the bus as blacks were required to do by the then-existing laws requiring segregation of the races. A 381-day bus boycott in Montgomery flowed from that one event, which eventually became a catalyst for organized boycotts, sitins, and demonstrations all across the South. Her single act of defiance has garnered her numerous public accolades and awards, and she has used that celebrity status to promote various civil and human rights causes as well as television programs and books inspired by her life story. She has also approved a collection of gospel recordings by various artists entitled Verity Records Presents: A Tribute to Mrs. Rosa Parks (the " Tribute " album), released in 1995.

Defendants are OutKast, comprised of recording artists André "Dré" Benjamin and Antwan "Big Boi" Patton; their record producers, LaFace, founded by and named after Antonio "L.A." Reid and Kenny "Babyface" Edmonds;1 and LaFace's record distributors, Arista Records and BMG Entertainment (collectively "Defendants"). In September 1998, Defendants released the album Aquemini. The album's first single release was a song titled Rosa Parks, described as a "hit single" by a sticker on the album. The same sticker that contained the name Rosa Parks also contained a Parental Advisory warning of "explicit content." J.A. at 60. Because, as later discussed, the critical issue in this case is a determination of the artistic relevance of the title, Rosa Parks, to the content of the song, the lyrics obviously must be considered in their entirety. They are as follows:


Ah ha, hush that fuss

Everybody move to the back of the bus

Do you wanna bump and slump with us

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We the type of people make the club get crunk

Verse 1: (Big Boi)

Many a day has passed, the night has gone by

But still I find the time to put that bump off in your eye

Total chaos, for these playas, thought we was absent

We takin another route to represent the Dungeon Family

Like Great Day, me and my nigga decide to take the back way

We stabbing every city then we headed to that bat cave

A-T-L, Georgia, what we do for ya

Bull doggin hoes like them Georgetown Hoyas

Boy you sounding silly, thank my Brougham aint sittin pretty

Doing doughnuts round you suckas like then circles around titties

Damn we the committee gone burn it down

But us gone bust you in the mouth with the chorus now


Verse 2: (André)

I met a gypsy and she hipped me to some life game

To stimulate then activate the left and right brain

Said baby boy you only funky as your last cut

You focus on the past your ass'll be a has what

Thats one to live by or either that one to die to

I try to just throw it at you determine your own adventure

Andre, got to her station here's my destination

She got off the bus, the conversation lingered in my head for hours

Took a shower kinda sour cause my favorite group ain't comin with it

But I'm witcha you cause you probably goin through it anyway

But anyhow when in doubt went on out and bought it

Cause I thought it would be jammin but examine all the flawsky-wawsky

Awfully, it's sad and it's costly, but that's all she wrote

And I hope I never have to float in that boat

Up shit creek it's weak is the last quote

That I want to hear when I'm goin down when all's said and done

And we got a new joe in town

When the record player get to skippin and slowin down

All yawl can say is them niggas earned that crown but until then . . .


(Harmonica Solo)

(Hook til fade)

J.A. at 521. B. Procedural History

Parks sued Defendants in the Wayne County Circuit Court of Michigan alleging, inter alia, that Defendants' unauthorized use of her name infringes on her right to publicity, defames her character, and interferes with an ongoing business relationship. Defendants removed this case to the District Court for the Eastern District of Michigan. Parks thereafter filed an amended complaint that reiterated her state law claims and added a false advertising claim under § 43(a) of the Lanham Act.

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The parties entered into a stipulation of the facts2("Stipulated Facts") and filed cross-motions for summary judgment. Applying Rogers v. Grimaldi, 875 F.2d 994 (2d Cir. 1989), the district court concluded that the First Amendment, as a matter of law, was a defense to Parks' Lanham Act and right of publicity claims. See Parks v. LaFace Records, 76 F.Supp.2d 775, 780-84 (E.D. Mich.1999). Specifically, the court found that (1) an "obvious relationship" between the content of the song and its title Rosa Parks renders the right of publicity inapplicable as a matter of law, id. at 780; (2) with respect to the Lanham Act, there was no explicit representation that the work was endorsed by Parks, id. at 783; (3) the prominent appearance of OutKast's name on their album cured any likelihood of consumer confusion between Plaintiff's and Defendants' albums as a matter of law, id. at 784; and (4) even if there were some likelihood of consumer confusion, such risk was outweighed by the First Amendment interests of the Defendants, id. at 783. Because, in the opinion of the district court, Parks had failed to raise any genuine issue of material fact to overcome Defendants' First Amendment defense or otherwise support her claims under the Lanham Act and her right of publicity, the district court denied Parks' motion for summary judgment and granted summary judgment for Defendants. Id. at 788-89. The district court also granted summary judgment in favor of Defendants on Rosa Parks' claims of defamation and tortious interference with a business relationship. This appeal followed.


A. Standard of Review

We review the district court's grant of summary judgment de novo. See Sperle v. Michigan Dep't of Corr., 297 F.3d 483, 490 (6th Cir. 2002). Summary judgment is proper where no genuine issue of material fact exists and the moving party is entitled to judgment as a matter of law. See Fed.R.Civ.P. 56(c). A genuine issue of material fact exists "if the evidence is such that a reasonable jury could return a verdict for the nonmoving party." Anderson v. Liberty Lobby, Inc., 477 U.S. 242, 248 (1986). In considering such a motion, the court must view the evidence and draw all reasonable inferences in favor of the nonmoving party. See Matsushita Elec. Indus. Co. v. Zenith Radio Corp., 475 U.S....

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