Bongs for Borat – Sacha Baron Cohen Sues Massachusetts Dispensary for Using His Image
Here’s a tip for not getting sued, “Get Legal Permission before using someone for your ad campaigns”.
Because you might end up getting sued by your unsolicited “spokesperson” for your brand, making you look like an ass in front of millions of people.
Some of you may be wondering what I’m ranting about. I’m talking about Sasha Baron Cohen who sued a Weed Dispensary in Massachusetts.
Solar Therapeutics Inc. – the dispensary in question – had a billboard with Borat holding two thumbs up and saying, “It’s nice!” on it.
Sure – it’s a genius idea in terms of penetrating the mass-consciousness of consumers by tapping into a cultural icon such as Borat…
Borat is the intellectual property of Cohen. Meaning if you would like to use it officially in an advertisement campaign, you’d have to reach out to the creator.
Which apparently this dispensary failed to do…
What were they thinking?
One would assume that if you’re running a weed dispensary, you’d be aware of a little thing called “laws”.
Intellectual Property Rights is a real thing in the United States. Violation of these IP laws gives the title holder the legal right to sue for damages.
It’s the reason why Facebook and Youtube are so anal about loading up music to their platforms to the point where bots would strike your original work as “someone else’s” just to cover their bases.
For the dispensary to think that it was “okay” to use the image of Borat to promote their goods seems to me very odd indeed.
Did they have nobody within that process making the billboard say, “Shouldn’t we ask permission to use Borat for our billboard?”
Apparently – they didn’t.
And what happens when you don’t ask permission from a millionaire who took decades on building up an image?
You get sued – that’s what happens!
And just like anyone would expect, the dispensary received a cease and desist from Cohen’s lawyers and the following public statement;
“By use of the billboard, the defendants falsely have conveyed to the public that Mr. Baron Cohen has endorsed their products and is affiliated with their business,” according to the complaint filed Monday. “To the contrary, Mr. Baron Cohen never has used cannabis in his life. He never would participate in an advertising campaign for cannabis, for any amount of money.” (as reported on NBC News)
The complaint continued by saying;
“Mr. Baron Cohen is highly protective of his image and persona, and those of his characters. Mr. Baron Cohen is very careful with the manner in which he uses his persona and his characters to interact with his fans and the general public…”
As a result, Borat is looking for a whopping $9 million in damages and seeing that there is no “lawyer” listed in the complaint, we can assume that it’s directed towards whoever owns the dispensary.
Currently, this is all we really know about this case and in all likeliness the dispensary would settle with the actor.
Nonetheless, this is an important lesson for the cannabis industry as a whole.
Don’t Fuck with Borat!
More like – don’t fuck with intellectual property without gaining the proper consent first. The mere fact that cannabis is a novel industry in certain places does not eliminate the very real “other industries” that exist.
This is especially true when you’re using mainstream advertising routes like putting up a billboard. These VERY public displays will grab the attention of people and can quickly escalate in a similar fashion as the case in question.
IF the dispensary wanted to use the image of Borat, they would probably have been more effective doing a “Meme Campaign” which would utilize Memes to sell the story or “hint that Borat likes that stuff”…which Cohen explicitly said he doesn’t.
Yet with Memes, if the source of the meme doesn’t come from the dispensary, then there is no legal infraction. You can’t stop a Meme from existing. Anyone with a mobile device can split-screen images and add their own message to it.
Even there, things may change one day, but for now using Memes would be your safest bet to incorporate intellectual property into your brand.
Bongs for Borat?
While it’s got a great ring to it – ultimately the person who created Borat can indicate how Borat should behave. Within a commercial setting – this is critical as Solar Therapeutics Inc. recently learned.
Of course, perhaps the strategy of the dispensary was getting sued by Cohen and so they gained international exposure for a cool $9 Million Dollars.
I mean, I’m writing about what they did which indicates that it had some effect in generating buzz. Perhaps folks from Massachusetts will travel to Solar Therapeutics to see the dispensary that got sued by Borat.
“Hey honey, see that dispensary – it got sued by Borat!”
The Sticky Bottom Line
At the end of the day, these events are bound to continue within the cannabis space mainly because – it happens in virtually every industry.
It’s both a lesson to learn and a sign that the cannabis industry is maturing, venturing into new areas where some may not have previous experience.
If Solar Therapeutics are a bunch of people who wanted to sell weed legally – they might not have known about the seriousness of using someone else’s image for your campaigns.
However, I also believe that the company who put up the billboard should be held “somewhat responsible” for the issue similar to how Youtube could be liable in copyright infringement.
Perhaps there needs to be a protocol where you need to prove that the ads your using has no copyrighted material – just like we do online. This way, we eliminate these kinds of happenings.