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Rosa Parks: Copyright Litigant

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Federal appeals court revives lawsuit by civil rights icon Rosa Parks against the rap group OutKast over their song “Rosa Parks”:

    A federal judge in Detroit had dismissed Parks’ lawsuit in 1999 over the song “Rosa Parks,” saying OutKast’s use of her name was protected by free speech, and the group did not need to compensate her.

    But a three-judge panel of the 6th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals ruled that while OutKast’s free speech defense was valid, so was Parks’ claim that using her name could suggest the song was about her or that she was connected to the group.

    The panel said OutKast needed to show some artistic reason for calling the song “Rosa Parks,” and ordered the district court to conduct a hearing and rule on the issue.

    “The fact that Defendants cry ‘artist’ and ‘symbol’ as reasons for appropriating Rosa Parks’ name for a song title does not absolve them from potential liability for, in the words of Shakespeare, filching Rosa Parks’ good name,” the ruling said.

    ….Parks, who turned 90 this year, helped spark the civil rights movement after she refused to surrender her seat on a Montgomery, Alabama, city bus to a white man in 1955. The legal challenges to her arrest led to a U.S. Supreme Court decision that forced Montgomery to desegregate its bus system and put an end to “Jim Crow” laws separating blacks and whites at public facilities throughout the South. [Reuters]

If her argument is that the lyrics have little to do with her name, she has a point: the only obvious references are the chorus (“Ah ha, hush that fuss – Everybody move to the back of the bus –
Do you wanna bump and slump with us – We the type of people make the club get crunk”) being that the real Rosa refused to move to the rear of the bus, and a reference in the second verse to riding on a bus with a gypsy. It’s a very interesting case.

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