Apple Ad out of Tune With Publicity Rights, Says New Suit

A new lawsuit accuses Apple of violating the publicity rights of a singer who says an iPhone ad illegally samples his voice.

Jerome Lawson, the lead singer of the 1970s group The Persuasions, does not allege that Apple violated the copyright in the song “Good Times,” perhaps because he doesn’t have rights to the song. Instead, he argues that Apple violated his publicity rights by sampling his voice in Jamie xx’s “I Know There’s Gonna Be (Good Times)” without his permission in an iPhone advertisement.

“Lawson’s voice is prominent and recognizable in the Apple commercial,” according to the California state court complaint. “Lawson is informed and believes and on that basis alleged that Plaintiff’s voice was recognized by fans of his who saw the commercial and those fans were deceived into falsely believing that Lawson endorsed Apple and the iPhone and/or that Lawson consented to the use of his voice to advertise Apple products.”

He seeks an injunction against further display or broadcast of the recording without his permission and no less than $10 million in damages for Apple’s alleged violation of California state law. The suit follows two recently filed complaints by 1960s artist Darlene Love in which she made similar allegations.

Love filed an action against Google last year, arguing that when the company used her 1963 song “It’s a Marshmallow World” in a Nexus phone commercial, it “falsely implied to the public that Love had endorsed Google’s products.” She also hit Scripps Networks Inc. with a lawsuit after it used her “Christmas (Baby Please Come Home)” in an ad for HGTV programming. Love later dropped both suits.

To read the complaint in Lawson v. Media Arts Lab, click here.

Why it matters: The Lawson complaint—and prior actions filed by Love—raise the issue of whether advertisers must also obtain permission from artists even after paying for a license to use the song itself. While the need for additional permission is not currently the industry standard, advertisers should keep an eye on the Lawson case.



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