It’s not all fun in the sun for MillerCoors LLC and The BeachLife Festival, LLC. The parties recently settled a lawsuit with Jason Mraz for repurposing the performing artist’s copyrighted content and image in branded social media posts.
In May 2019, BeachLife hosted its inaugural eponymous festival in Redondo Beach, California featuring over 40 artists including Jason Mraz, who performed his hit song, “I’m Yours”. In addition to the artists, BeachLife touted its “content-first” approach which would create a “highly-integrated level of engagement between artists and guests.”
After the festival had ended, MillerCoors, a sponsor of the event, repurposed the festival’s content and posted an advertisement for Coors Light beer on Instagram incorporating 13 seconds of Mraz’s performance. The advertisement featured a Coors Light logo stating, “Presented by Coors Light”, and a can of Coors Light superimposed over the clip. Additionally, a comment on the advertisement stated, “Kicking off summer with the World’s Most Refreshing Beer at the BeachLife Festival.”
In December 2019, Mraz filed a complaint in the Central District of California against MillerCoors alleging the alcoholic beverage company made an unauthorized use of his performance and image in the advertisement. Due to the “family friendly nature” of his heartfelt love song, Mraz stated he had never and would never license the composition for use by alcoholic beverage or other “adult-oriented” product companies. Mraz brought claims for copyright infringement, false designation of origin, common law right of publicity, and violations of state right of publicity and unfair competition laws. Mraz sought injunctive and monetary relief.
In response, MillerCoors stated it “contracted the rights to the BeachLife Festival and video assets through the event’s promoter, so if [Mraz] truly feel[s] there has been a violation here, [MillerCoors is] not the party they should be suing.” MillerCoors swiftly followed up with a third-party complaint against The BeachLife Festival alleging it made misrepresentations that, as a sponsor of the festival, MillerCoors had permission to use the festival’s content in social media posts. Relying on these misrepresentations, MillerCoors agreed to the sponsorship, paid for the rights to use footage of the festival, and posted the BeachLife-created content as an advertisement on its social media. The third-party complaint brought claims for fraud, negligent misrepresentation, breach of contract, equitable indemnifications, and a violation of state unfair competition law.
The parties reached a resolution, filing a Notice of Settlement in Principle on May 4, 2020, but settlement terms have not been released. Even without an opinion from the court, the case confirms that social media posts are closely watched by rights-owners who are prepared to take action to protect their rights. Moreover, the dispute emphasizes the importance of focusing on the details of sponsorship agreements to ensure that the sponsor’s rights are specific and indemnification provisions are clear.
The case is Jason Mraz v. MillerCoors LLC et al, C.D. Cal., No. 2:19-cv-10289 (complaint filed Dec. 4, 2019; Notice of Settlement in Principle filed May 4, 2020).
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