Legal Drama, Music Business

You Don’t Say. Reebok Claims to Have “High Standards,” Drops Rick Ross Over ‘U.O.E.N.O.’ Rape Lyrics #MoralsClause

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Rick Ross RAPE LyricsI am no fan of Rick Ross and long time AML readers know this. Also, when he visited Nigeria and to me exploited the stereotypical image of Africa, that just cemented the chances of ever being cool like that with him. Indeed I cringed when I heard some of his lyrics and Nigerians proudly singing every word. When our musicians stepped in front of the mic to tell the world  how much they loved him and his lyrics, I was speechless. However, who cared, right? There was money to be made so just keep it moving and forget the voices like mine that *sarcastic voice* “can’t understand it is just music.”

Well, Rick Ross returned back to US territory and dropped a new song with lyrics that were interpreted, according to him, wrongly i.e. interpreted to mean he was endorsing rape. Y’all know Americans don’t play that nonsense when they focus in on people/groups or artists that seem to endorse violence against women.

Indeed women’s rights groups had enough of the nonsense and they rightfully hit Ross, in my view, where it hurt by going to Reebok and asking the renowned global sports apparel company to cut ties with Ross as their brand ambassador.

After some days of this pressure, Reebok has caved in. While I am glad to see them pull the plug, I nevertheless gotta call them out on the rubbish of an excuse that the basis for dropping Ross is because he failed to live up to their “high standard” and “values.” You don’t say. What rubbish high standards Reebok?

Here is Reebok’s statement to the press for why they dropped Rick Ross:

“Reebok holds our partners to a high standard, and we expect them to live up to the values of our brand.  Unfortunately, Rick Ross has failed to do so. While we do not believe that Rick Ross condones sexual assault, we are very disappointed he has yet to display an understanding of the seriousness of this issue or an appropriate level of remorse. At this time, it is in everyone’s best interest for Reebok to end its partnership with Mr. Ross.” – Culled from Billboard Mag.

LEGAL ANALSYSIS

Again, while I endorse this result on a personal level, as to the contract Reebok signed with Ross, what exactly is the high standard or brand values Reebok is claiming?  Ross is a rapper who already uses and raps such profane things that degrade minorities (black) and women. His music is replete with expletives such as “niggas”  “bitches” et al. Nevertheless, Reebok chose to have him as a brand ambassador, knowing fully well this is NOT representative of their so called high standard. I am sure looking through Ross’ lyrics, there is evidence of his prior lyrics that can be interpreted as endorsing sexual harassment or even endorsing sexual assault against women, prior to Reebok signing him. So what exactly are they saying?  I think they could have skipped that whole line and go straight to the “While we do not believe . . .” part.

In any event, the key issue here is did Reebok have a morals clause in its endorsement deal with Rick Ross? If so, did it define what is acceptable or unacceptable lyrics, during the duration of his endorsement deal with Reebok, given the kind of artist he is? They also seem concerned more about his response to the public. Did they tell Ross how to respond to lyrics that the public does not like as part of that morals clause? They are walking a tight line on that press statement. I doubt Ross will do anything. However, if he is really hurting financially, he may sue to avoid a viral effect with other endorsement deals now and in future.

Morals Clause in a nutshell:

For companies looking to have a brand ambassador or spokesperson, you MUST factor bad behavior into the agreement. These days, it is not unusual to find celebrities behaving badly.

WHAT COMPANY WANTS: A broad “morals clause” that allows company to terminate agreement if celebrity behaves badly.

WHAT CELEBRITY WANTS: No morals clause. If there should be one, then a narrowly tailored language that gives room to wiggle out. For celebrities, you have to think, who defines “bad behavior?” There are clear examples defined by law i.e. breaking the criminal code i.e. robbery, murder, assault etc. But, what if you were in public and a reporter sticks a mic in your face asking about a hot topic and your opinion on the hot button topic? What if you respond, your response is appropriate but offends many that disagree with your position? What if you are asked to “apologize” and you refuse because it is truly what you believe? What if the company whose brand you represent now wants to pull the plug because under the morals clause, “it is offensive” to many, what do you do? Your lawyer should foresee such issues and should be able to focus on the language in your agreement to protect your interest.

For the full gist of the Rick Ross case, read AML’s Udeme Uwan’s writeup here.

-Uduak

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Africa Music Law™

AFRICA MUSIC LAW™ (AML) is a pioneering music business and entertainment law blog and podcast show by Fashion and Entertainment Lawyer Ms. Uduak Oduok empowering the African artist and Africa's rapidly evolving entertainment industry through brilliant music business and entertainment law commentary and analysis, industry news, and exclusive interviews.

Credited for several firsts in the fashion and entertainment industry, Ms. Uduak is also a Partner and Co-Founder of Ebitu Law Group, P.C. where she handles her law firm’s intellectual property law, media, business, fashion, and entertainment law practice areas. She has litigated a wide variety of cases in California courts and handled a variety of entertainment deals for clients in the USA, Africa, and Asia.

Her work and contributions to the creative industry have been recognized by numerous organizations including the National Bar Association, The American University School of Law and featured in prestigious legal publications in the USA including ABA Journal and The California Lawyer Magazine. She is also an Adjunct Professor at the prestigious Academy of Arts University in San Francisco.
For legal representation inquiries, please email (uduak@ebitulawgrp.com). For blog related inquiries i.e. advertising, licensing, or guest interview requests, please email (africamusiclaw@gmail.com). Thank you for visiting Africa Music Law™.

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