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The U.S. Supreme Court on Monday refused to get involved in a legalfight between civil rights pioneer Rosa Parks and Atlanta rap duoOutKast. The justices denied OutKast’s request that they review a decision by the6th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals that had cleared the way for the90-year-old Parks to sue OutKast members Andre “Dre” Benjamin and Antwan”Big Boi” Patton and others for naming a profanity-laced song after herwithout her permission. The lyrics of the song don’t mention Parks by name, but its chorus, or”hook” says, “Ah ha, hush that fuss/Everybody move to the back of thebus/Do you wanna bump and slump with us/We the type of people make theclub get crunk.” A translation of rap lyrics submitted into the record by Parks’ lawyerssuggests that the song has nothing to do with Rosa Parks personally butis a self-congratulatory anthem to OutKast’s stardom: “Be quiet and stopthe commotion. OutKast is coming back out [with new music] so all otherMCs [mic checkers, rappers, Master of Ceremonies] step aside. Do youwant to ride and hang out with us? OutKast is the type of group to makethe clubs get hyped-up/excited.” Parks’ lawyers, Johnnie L. Cochran Jr. of Los Angeles and Gregory J.Reed of Detroit, claimed that since the song had nothing to do withParks, it was used only to exploit her celebrity to sell records. As aresult, the song was an unauthorized, commercial appropriation of Parks’name that tarnished her legacy, her lawyers said. In 1999, U.S. District Judge Barbara K. Hackett in Detroit grantedsummary judgment to OutKast. She ruled that the “possibly offensive use”of celebrities’ names “is exactly the type of speech protected by theFirst Amendment.” Accordingly, the judge “regrettably” threw out thesuit. Parks v. LaFace Records, 75 F. Supp. 2d 775 (E.D. Mich. 1999). But in May, a 6th Circuit panel — Senior Judge Alan E. Norris, Judge R.Guy Cole Jr. and visiting U.S. District Judge John D. Holschuh — reversedcritical parts of the lower court ruling. In a decision by Holschuh, the panel found that OutKast’s lyrics”contain absolutely nothing that could conceivably, by any stretch ofthe imagination, be considered, explicitly or implicitly, a reference tocourage, to sacrifice, to the civil rights movement or to any otherquality with which Rosa Parks is identified.” The 6th Circuit panel relied on a 1989 decision of the 2nd Circuit, Rogers v. Grimaldi, 875 F.2d 994. In that case, the 2nd Circuit foundthat a celebrity suing for trademark violations had to prove that atitle using the celebrity’s name has “no artistic relevance to theunderlying work whatsoever” or “explicitly misleads” consumers. Wrote Holschuh, “If the requirement of ‘relevance’ is to have anymeaning at all, it would not be unreasonable to conclude that the title’Rosa Parks’ is not relevant to the content of the song in question. “The use of this woman’s name unquestionably was a good marketing tool… but its use could be found by a reasonable finder of fact to be aflagrant deception on the public,” Holschuh concluded. Parks v. LaFaceRecords, 329 F.3d 437 (6th Cir. 2003). After the 6th Circuit refused to reconsider the decision, OutKastattorneys Joseph M. Beck and Christopher J. Kellner, both of KilpatrickStockton, asked the Supreme Court to take the case. They argued that the 6th Circuit had stretched the “artistic relevance”test in Rogers so far that it violated the First Amendment’s free speechguarantee. The 6th Circuit standard, argued Beck and Kellner, “improperly invitedjury punishment of controversial artistic expression, a dangerespecially present when the celebrity is a person with the character andvalues of Ms. Parks.” Beck said after learning of the Supreme Court’s denial, “The bandbelieves the song is fully protected by the First Amendment and looksforward to winning again” in the trial court. Parks’ attorneys could not be reached for comment. Parks became famous in 1955 when she refused to give up her seat for awhite passenger and move to the back of a segregated bus in Montgomery,Ala. Her heroic act led to the Rev. Martin Luther King Jr.’s legendaryMontgomery bus boycott, which resulted in a federal court decisionoutlawing segregated buses, Browder v. Gayle, 142 F. Supp. 707 (M.D.Ala., 1956). The Supreme Court affirmed that decision in 1956. In 1999, the song “Rosa Parks” was nominated for a Grammy award for bestrap performance by a duo or group. Last week, OutKast was nominated forsix Grammy awards for its current album, “Speakerboxxx/The Love Below.”

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