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A Massachusetts cannabis dispensary, Solar Therapeutics, is being sued by actor Sacha Baron Cohen for the use of one of Cohen’s famous characters, Borat, in one of their billboard advertisements without permission.
Solar Therapeutics, based out of Somerset, Massachusetts, is being sued for copyright infringement and false advertising in federal court by the 49-year-old British actor. The advertisement in question, placed on the side of a busy Massachusetts highway earlier this year before being removed in April, shows Borat with his famous pose of two thumbs-up beside the words, “it’s nice,” suggesting that Borat is endorsing Solar Therapeutics, which primarily offers marijuana and cannabis products.
Cohen, who is seeking damages of at least US$9 million (around HK$69 million), has said that he has never used marijuana and would never agree to advertising any drug for any amount of money. According to the complaint filed by Cohen’s legal team, “Cohen never has used cannabis in his life. He never would participate in an advertising campaign for cannabis, for any amount of money.” The complaint added, “By use of the billboard, the defendants falsely have conveyed to the public that Mr. Baron Cohen has endorsed their products and is affiliated with their business.”
David Conden, who represents Sacha Baron Cohen, believes that the Massachusetts cannabis dispensary had “taken a gamble” and hoped that the actor would not see the billboard. The Hollywood Reporter reported that Cohen’s attorney, Russell Smith, had sent a cease-and-desist letter to the marijuana company, and that they agreed to take the billboard down. However, Solar Therapeutics refused to compensate the actor for the unauthorized use of his character on their billboard.
Sacha Baron Cohen and Borat controversy
Borat is arguably Cohen’s most famous character, with his 2006 and 2020 “Borat” mockumentary films garnering both critical and commercial acclaim. The infamous character was first introduced in Cohen’s “Da Ali G Show.”
In the complaint, Cohen said that he aims for his characters to “reach and educate people around the world on important social issues." He has turned down “countless" advertising opportunities since he believed it would “weaken his credibility as an actor and serious social activist.” The lawsuit reveals he even rejected a US$4 million offer to appear in a car commercial.
“Mr. Baron Cohen is highly protective of his image and persona, and those of his characters. Mr. Baron Cohen is very careful with the manner in which he uses his persona and his characters to interact with his fans and the general public."
Cohen recently won another legal lawsuit ongoing since 2018 in which US Senate candidate Roy Moore sued Cohen for tricking him into an interview for his ShowTime series “Who Is America?” The interview publicly criticized and mocked Moore’s sexual misconduct allegations.
The segment showed Cohen, undercover as a journalist, demonstrate a supposed pedophile detector which beeped when it came near Roy Moore. The US judge dismissed the US$95 million lawsuit after believing the segment was “clearly a joke” and that no viewer thought Cohen was making real allegations against Moore.
The lawsuit also discussed Cohen’s upbringing, saying Baron Cohen “does not believe it is a healthy choice," and as an “observant" Jew who grew up in an Orthodox family, he “does not wish to be involved in the heated controversy among the Orthodox Jewish community about whether cannabis can be used under Jewish traditions, customs and rules."
Although cannabis is legal in several US states, it is still considered illegal under federal law.
The case is ongoing under Baron Cohen v. Solar Therapeutics Inc, US District Court for the District of Massachusetts, No. 1:21-cv-11139.
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