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Outkast's 'Rosa Parks' Song Legal Battle Becomes A Case Of Conscience   Print 
Friday, 04 February 2005
hip-hop newsby Ifè Oshun

Today, February 4th, on the 92nd birthday of American heroine Rosa Parks, the legal battle involving the Outkast tune named after her has grown into a movement, even though the hip-hop super duo has been dropped from the suit.

On Monday, Jan. 30, settlement negotiations continued in Detroit between Parks' lawyer Gregory Reed and the music giants behind the now infamous song "Rosa Parks." The lyrics, which never mention her, contain sexual references and language that disturbed Parks, the famous seamstress/NAACP activist who sparked the civil rights movement with her refusal to give up her bus seat to a white man.

The track, found on 1998's Aquemini, has a chorus that says, "Ah ha, hush that fuss. Everybody move to the back of the bus." Big Boi and Andre 3000 maintain it refers to the way OutKast intends to treat their competition, with the "bus" serving as a symbol of the music industry.

Both artists have been removed from the suit, which now focuses on LaFace Records, Arista Records, and BMG Entertainment, a division of music conglomerate Bertelsmann AG. By using her name without her permission, Parks' lawyers contend, the producers and marketers broke federal rules designed to prevent people from profiting through misrepresentation.

Representing the music defendants is Joseph Beck, who grew up in Montgomery and vividly remembers the year-long, historical bus boycott inspired by Parks. Beck, who's current clients include the estate of Martin Luther King Jr., is in the position of acting in the interest of his clients' rights while addressing the well-being of an American legend.

The case, which has dragged on for years, is now more a cause than an actual legal battle.

In the midst of it all is Parks, barely aware of the legal struggle over her name. Medical records released by the court prove she has been suffering from dementia since 2002.

"From time to time, she speaks. From time to time, she demonstrates emotions," said former Detroit mayor Dennis Archer who is her court-appointed guardian. Archer, who supports the lawsuit refers to her as an angel.

"She is a symbol," Archer said, "of all that is good about America."

Reed, who has submitted as evidence a 1999 letter from Parks, encouraging his efforts on her behalf, insists it's not about the 5$ billion asked for, it's about respect.

"We just wanted [Parks'] name off," Reed said. "The music would've sold."

Reed's law partner, Stephanie Hammonds, actually wept during the proceedings, saying Parks is not only the victim in the case, but its inspiration.

"The real story to take from this is that . . . if someone is big, it doesn't matter how big. If it's wrong, stand up," Hammonds said.

Currently, Parks main source of income is Social Security and a small pension. The icon often struggled to pay her rent, but recently her landlord granted her the ability to live rent-free for the rest of her life.

Although Beck believes the First Amendment protects everyone connected with the OutKast production, the Alabama native claims his clients have a heart.

"We've always been willing to do something for Mrs. Parks, not because we have to -- because under the law we don't -- but because we respect her," he said.

What is being discussed is not whether the music companies will pay up, but how much is reasonable under the special circumstances and where the money should go.

Archer claims his mission is to attract enough money to "allow Mrs. Parks to have a life that is comfortable for the rest of her life. The plaintiff in this case is Mrs. Parks."


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Last Updated ( Friday, 04 February 2005 )


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