The lawyers for Taco Bell may know about the law, but it seems they're not too up on the rules of the hip-hop game.
In a trash-talking countersuit filed in U.S. District Court in New York in September that recently surfaced, the food chain's lawyers shot back against a [article id="1591453"]trademark-infringement suit[/article] filed by [artist id="860639"]50 (born Curtis Jackson)[/artist] last summer, in which the MC sued the chain for allegedly making him an unauthorized spokesman in a campaign in which they suggested he change his name to "79 Cent" or "99 Cent" to match prices on the Taco Bell menu.
According to a copy of the countersuit obtained by TMZ, Taco Bell engages in some legal trash talking, in which they say the "self-described former drug dealer and hustler" creates music that falls into "the subgenre of hip-hop music known as 'gangsta rap,' a style associated with urban street gangs and characterized by violent, tough-talking braggadocio."
The suit claims that 50 has used his "colorful" past to cultivate an image of "belligerence and arrogance," and says he has a "well-publicized track record for making threats, starting feuds and filing lawsuits," while also painting himself as a charitable person who gives back to his community. Lawyers for Taco Bell claim the suit against them is "another of Jackson's attempts to burnish his gangsta rapper persona by distorting beyond all recognition a bona fide, good faith offer Taco Bell made."
The chain argues that their offer to donate $10,000 to the charity of 50's choice and give the restaurant's patrons free food if 50 showed up at any Taco Bell restaurant and "rapped an order in the drive thru using the name 79 Cent, 89 Cent or 99 Cent," was made in earnest.
The suit claims that the "humorous but sincere" open letter it sent to 50 had an obvious "jovial spirit," but with a serious underlying offer. "The challenge — asking Jackson to temporarily change his name ... for charity — was a soft ridicule and good-natured lampoon of the rapper's moniker, 50 Cent, and his public image as a gangsta rapper."
As a defense, the suit notes that the letter from Taco Bell's president was not used in ads, that 50's name was never used in an ad campaign and that "celebrity challenges are notable and newsworthy and reported in the media."
In the end, Bell's lawyers say 50 could simply have responded yes or no to the offer, and if he'd said yes, both would have benefited from the publicity for his good deed. Instead, though, the suit claims he launched an "aggressive, offensive attack on Taco Bell in the press," including threatening legal action against the chain in a widely distributed sound bite in which he warned, "when my legal team is finished with them, Taco Bell is going to have a new corporate slogan: 'We messed with the bull and got the horns.' "
Peter Raymond, an attorney for 50 Cent, said in a statement released to MTV News Thursday afternoon (November 20): "Mr. Jackson filed this lawsuit to protect his valuable trademark and privacy rights against infringers like Taco Bell, who seek to make money using his name without his permission. Mr. Jackson intends to demonstrate that Taco Bell and its affiliated companies have used this same infringing tactic before by issuing press releases using other celebrities' names, such as Rihanna, Chris Brown, Fergie and Paris Hilton. Mr. Jackson believes that Taco Bell needs to be stopped. With this recent court filing, Taco Bell has not only misappropriated Mr. Jackson's name, but they have now defamed his character in a desperate attempt to defend their improper actions. Mr. Jackson intends to vigorously pursue this case."
Representatives for Taco Bell had not responded to MTV News' requests for comment at press time.
[This story was originally published at 12:31 pm E.T. on 11.20.2008]