Sonicnet Music News
Civil rights icon Rosa Parks has hired lawyer Johnnie Cochran to help her appeal a district court's decision allowing Atlanta rap group Outkast to use her name as the title of a song.
"When I asked [Cochran to help Parks], he said yes in a second," said Gregory Reed, who leads Parks' team of lawyers.
Reed said he asked Cochran to help Parks about a month ago. Cochran was unavailable for comment Tuesday.
Cochran told Reed that helping Parks "was the right thing to do, win or lose," Reed said.
Parks became a prominent figure in the U.S. civil rights movement when she, a black woman, refused to give up her seat to a white person on a Montgomery, Alabama, bus in 1955. She sued Outkast last year for using her name as the title of its Grammy-nominated song, "Rosa Parks," from 1998's "Aquemini."
Her lawyers argued that the group exploited her name for profit, and they sought to block use of her
name. Outkast and its label, LaFace, said the First Amendment protects song titles.
U.S. District Judge Barbara Hackett upheld the rappers' right to use Parks' name in November (see "Judge Rules In Outkast-Rosa Parks Lawsuit"), and Parks took the case to the 6th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals. According to Parks' and the rappers' lawyers, both sides have submitted written arguments to the court. The appellate judges could rule based on those arguments, or they could ask to hear oral arguments about the case, which has no future court date scheduled.
Cochran is an "effective persuader" who was hand-picked to deliver oral arguments to the appeals court if the case gets to that point, Reed said.
Cochran will argue that the song does not have First Amendment protection because, though the title carries Parks' name, the lyrics are not about her, Reed said.
Outkast's lawyer, Joseph Beck, said he was not intimidated
by Cochran's role in the case.
"I always welcome the presence of strong opposing counsel," said Beck, who will deliver the oral argument for the rap group if the court requests it.
At other times, Cochran has represented hip-hop clients, most recently helping to defend Sean "Puffy" Combs against weapons charges linked to a December shooting at a New York nightclub (see "Puff Daddy Adding To Legal Team, Draws Support From Jesse Jackson"). The lawyer also represented slain rapper Tupac Shakur in connection with a 1993 sexual assault charge and Snoop Dogg on a murder charge in 1995.
A spokesman for Cochran said the lawyer does not do entertainment or criminal defense work anymore because he now specializes in civil rights and personal-injury cases. He took on the Parks and Combs cases for personal reasons, Cochran publicist Rachel Noerdlinger said.
"He is a personal friend of [Combs] and he has a lot of
respect for Rosa Parks," she said.