Sacha Baron Cohen is seeking at least $9 million in a lawsuit filed against Solar Therapeutic, a cannabis company that decided to use the fictional Borat character on a billboard advertisement (via The Hollywood Reporter). The Massachusetts interstate billboard depicted Borat giving a thumbs up and exclaiming, “It’s Nice!” Baron Cohen did not give Solar Therapeutic permission to use the character and is suing for copyright infringement, false advertising, and misappropriation of his right of publicity.
“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,” Baron Cohen’s attorney David Condon writes in the complaint. “To the contrary, Mr. Baron Cohen never has used cannabis in his life. He never would participate in an advertising campaign for cannabis, for any amount of money.”
“The Defendants knowingly misappropriated Mr. Baron Cohen’s portrait, picture, image, likeness, and persona to increase the Defendants’ sales revenues, which, upon information and belief, are approximately $26 million per year,” the complaint continues. “Upon information and belief, the Defendants believed Mr. Baron Cohen would not learn about the Billboard, so they took a gamble, guessing they could copy and use Mr. Baron Cohen’s image without ever having to pay for it. In this action, Mr. Baron Cohen seeks market value compensation, statutory treble damages, and punitive and other damages, estimated to be in a total amount of at least $9 million.”
The complaint stressed that Baron Cohen has received “countless opportunities” to accept corporate brand deals for Borat and has never accepted any of them. Per THR: “After Baron Cohen’s lawyer sent a cease-and-desist letter, the company said the billboard had been taken down but it has declined to compensate Cohen for the unauthorized use of his image and that of his famous alter ego.”
“With his ‘Ali G’ character, portrayed by Mr. Baron Cohen in the HBO television series ‘Da Ali G Show,’ Mr. Baron Cohen has spent much of his career making a mockery of ‘stoner’ culture – a culture which the Defendants’ Billboard overtly celebrates,” the complaint adds. “In addition, Mr. Baron Cohen was born into an Orthodox Jewish family; he is an Observant Jew; and he is proud of his cultural heritage. 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.”
Baron Cohen brought Borat back in a big way last fall with the release of “Borat Subsequent Movie Film,” which debuted to huge streaming buzz on Amazon Prime Video and earned two Oscar nominations: Best Supporting Actress (Maria Bakalova) and Best Adapted Screenplay.