Rapper 50 Cent says Taco Bell stole his endorsement

Wed Jul 23, 2008 5:53pm EDT
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NEW YORK (Reuters) - U.S. rapper and hip-hop mogul 50 Cent sued Taco Bell on Wednesday, saying the restaurant chain made him the star of its hip-hop themed ad campaign without his permission and without paying him a fee.

50 Cent, whose real name is Curtis Jackson, accuses the Mexican-style fast food chain of "diluting the value of his good name" and employing a guerrilla advertising campaign to fool consumers into thinking he had endorsed the chain, said the lawsuit, filed in Manhattan federal court.

"Without seeking or obtaining Jackson's authorization, defendant Taco Bell made him the star and focus of its nation-wide advertising campaign by using his name, persona and trademark to promote Taco Bell's business and products," court papers said.

A spokesperson for Yum! Brands, which operates Taco Bell, did not immediately respond to a request for comment.

The lawsuit accuses the chain of disseminating a letter, addressed to 50 Cent, that encourages the rapper to change his name to "79 Cent," "89 Cent" or "99 Cent," the lawsuit said.

The letter was designed to promote the company's "79-89-99 Cent Why Pay More" campaign, while avoiding the multimillion dollar fee the rapper might have charged to use his name, the lawsuit said.

The letter was eventually sent to the rapper, but only after it had been circulated to reporters, the lawsuit said.

"As Taco Bell intended, many customers believed that 50 Cent had agreed to endorse Taco Bell's products. Indeed, postings on numerous Internet 'blogs' castigated 50 Cent for 'selling out' by his apparent endorsement of Taco Bell," the lawsuit said.

Since his debut album in 2003, 50 Cent has built a business with a record label, a clothing and footwear line, ringtones and video games. He has also starred in a movie based on his life, "Get Rich or Die Tryin'."

(Reporting by Edith Honan, editing by Christine Kearney and Sandra Maler)