In a profound lesson to include choice of counsel and defense obligations in your sponsorship contracts, Jason Mraz has filed this complaint against MillerCoors over MillerCoors’ use of Jason Mraz’s May 2019 performance at the Beach Life Festival in an Instagram ad promoting MillerCoors.
The complaint alleges that MillerCoors used Mraz’s image and copyrighted material in the advertisement without his permission superimposing the Coors Light Logo over the ad. The complaint alleges copyright violation, Lanham Act violation, violation of Mraz’s right of publicity and California statutory claims.
The complaint notes that the video was 13 seconds and does not state that MillerCoors took down the ad from Instagram after learning of Mraz’s objections – which this Billboard article acknowledges – but instead states that even after being advised of the infringing use, MIllerCoors failed to acknowledge they were required to obtain Mraz’s permission and have never acknowledged the wrongfulness of the use. This could be the spin on the idea that while MillerCoors took down the ad, they told reporters at TMZ that:
A spokesperson for MillerCoors tells TMZ, “We are very surprised they have chosen to take this route. Despite having the contractual rights to post the short Instagram video in question, we immediately removed it as a courtesy to Mr. Mraz and his team when they reached out.”They continue, “MillerCoors contracted the rights to the BeachLife Festival and video assets through the event’s promoter, so if they truly feel there has been a violation here, we are not the party they should be suing.”
Similar comments were made to the reporters for the Billboard article.
For Mraz’s part, the complaint alleges that he doesn’t and wouldn’t allow use of his materials in the sponsorship of alcoholic beverages or other adult products. “Due to the family friendly nature of the song, Mraz has never licensed the composition for use by alcohol companies or other adult-oriented products and would never do so.”
The lesson here is that if you’re buying content or obtaining a contractual right to it through a third party, full due-diligence and clearance may be the only way to rest assured you’ve actually obtained the rights you think you’ve bought. But, if you aren’t going to go through that process, then having a choice of counsel and defense obligation in your indemnity provisions or other portions of your contract may be the best way to ensure you’ve got some protections when you find yourself surprised by claims you don’t have permission for a use.
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