I'm talkin' 'bout my brand and you talkin' 'bout your brands -- The difference is a lot of MMMMMMMMMMs to your couple hundred grand - Nicki Minaj, The Pinkprint Freestyle
Nicki Minaj has built a nine-figure brand since stepping on the scene in 2004. In addition to music, she's sold everything from nails and perfume to moscato and wigs.
Minaj's stamp of approval is valuable, and she's knows it. Companies who use her name must compensate her for that privilege - see, for example, her multimillion dollar licensing deals with Sears and Pepsi.
On Friday, Minaj took to Twitter to call out one ultra-high end shoe company who is using her name without paying her . . . Giuseppe Zanotti:
Recently when he gave other artists capsule collections, my agency reached out and was told they're not taking our call. 🤔— NICKI MINAJ (@NICKIMINAJ) February 3, 2017
Just go on google, you'll see all the different pairs he's named after me. Lil black girl can inspire u but ain't worth a collection my nig?— NICKI MINAJ (@NICKIMINAJ) February 3, 2017
The Barbz, Nicki's online fanbase, obliged, and both #RunMeMyCheck and #GiuseppeWhatsGood were trending on Twitter over the weekend. Even Tom Ford, yes THAT Tom Ford, got in on it:
As Tom Ford points out, Giuseppe Zanotti has twenty-three different shoes using Minaj's name in some form or fashion. Here are a few:
So what is the big deal here? According to the law, a lot.
There are legal rights called rights of publicity that apply to this kind of situation. Rights of publicity say that a person has a protectable interest in their likeness, name, voice, image, and identity. The owner if a right of publicity can sue if another person is
1) using their name, identity, likeness or persona without consent in a way that causes harm; and
2) receiving some kind of benefit or advantage based on that use.
Because the right of publicity is based on state law, the law's limits vary significantly by location. Roughly 30 states recognize the right, and most of these states extend the right of publicity to all people, not just celebrities.
Just a few years ago, in 2015, Michael Jordan successfully sued Dominick’s Finer Foods, a Chicago supermarket chain, for using his name without permission in the below ad:
A jury awarded Jordan $8.9 million dollars - the lawsuit actually ended up contributing to the grocery store ultimately closing its doors for good. And this was all based on an advertisement that CONGRATULATED Michael Jordan. This was clearly not a game for MJ.
And, it isn't a game for many people who make their living off of their name and likeness. Bette Midler sued Ford Motor Company and won $400,000 after they hired a sound-a-like voice impersonator for a Ford commercial. Tom Waits did the same with Frito-Lay and won $2.5 million. Kareem Adbul-Jabbar was even successful in suing General Motors for using his birth name, Lew Alcindor, in a commercial.
Though celebrity cases are the ones we hear about most, the right of publicity also applies to the non-famous. You should care about this if you have a Facebook account, for example. In one lawsuit that began in 2011, Fraley v. Facebook, a court extended the right of publicity to the average, everyday Facebook user under certain circumstances. I actually opted in the class action and got my settlement check in mail just a few months ago -- that ~$20 went to good use.
At any rate, Nicki Minaj's complaint is certainly legitimate and probably supported by the law. If your employer decided tomorrow that they were no longer going to pay you but wanted to use your talents for free to make millions, you'd have a problem with that. Minaj really isn't that much different from the rest of us when it comes to wanting to be compensated for our efforts.
Here's to hoping that Giuseppe Zanotti runs her that check . . . or they could certainly end up in court spending a lot more.