Artists have the right to Rosa Parks’ name

The rap group Outkast, composed of Big Boi and Dre, recently released a hit single entitled “Rosa Parks.” Rosa Parks, with the help of her attorney, Gregory Reed, is suing the Atlanta based rap-duo, claiming the rappers are “trading off Parks’ name and status for their own commercial exploitation and enrichment.” The suit, filed in Detroit, asks that her name be removed from all Outkast products and seeks $25,000 in damages.
LaFace Records, co-owned by Kenny Edmonds, also known as Babyface, produced Outkast’s compact disc “Aquemini,” which contained the “Rosa Parks” single. The album has already sold an excess of 1 million copies, while the hit single has sold 500,000 copies and earned a Grammy nomination. Yet the song, although named after her, does not mention Rosa Parks in its lyrics.
After hearing about the suit, Outkast responded, “She has inspired our music and our lives since we were children. It was not, nor ever has been, our intention to defame a woman who we consider a role model … we hope to be able to work out this situation amicably.”
Outkast is protected by the First Amendment because they have not crossed the libel or slander line. Although her name may be attached to a less than wholesome song, the group does not make any direct statements about Rosa Parks or her actions. As a matter of fact, the song does not really have anything to do with Rosa Parks aside from a small part of the chorus that goes, “Ah ha hush that fuss, everyone move to the back of the bus.” The rest of the song follows a traditional rap formula, proclaiming the group’s fame and importance. The mild lyrics of the song are a far cry from songs produced by other rap groups that focus primarily on expletives and female bashing.
Rosa Parks has received considerable positive attention from other public figures in recent years. President Bill Clinton praised her for her civil rights work during Black History Month. She also met with Pope John Paul II earlier this year. She did not seem to have a problem with the attention she received from those people and the media. Being a public figure, she needs to be able to understand that with good publicity there will be some publicity she does not want.
Does Rosa Parks think she is the only one whose name has ever been exploited? Princess Diana paid the ultimate price of exploitation when paparazzi caused the fatal accident. John F. Kennedy’s death has made money for many people, producing everything from the movie “JFK” to books describing the assassination in detail.
Rosa Parks does not have any grounds to sue the group. Big Boi and Dre have the right to express themselves under the First Amendment. They neither slander nor libel Rosa Parks in their song. Since her rights have not been infringed upon, her lawsuit is without merit. As a public, and even historic figure, she should understand that her name can and will be used by people in ways that she sometimes likes and sometimes dislikes. This is the very nature of being a public figure.