UNFAIR USE: Pitbull vs. Lohan could cause irreparable harm to artistic freedom

If you doubt that words have power, ask a rapper. Ask Pitbill when he performs Thursday at Rexall Place. Better yet, take a picture of him with a Kodak and then ask him.

The Florida superstar – who will be backed up by fellow Florida rapper Flo Rida – is in legal trouble from Lindsay Lohan, who objected to a line in Pitbull’s hit song Give Me Everything: “I got it locked up like Lindsay Lohan.” He could’ve referenced any of the multitude of formerly locked up celebrities, but her name just happens to sort of rhyme with “flowin.’” She’s suing for an undisclosed sum.

According to TMZ, Lohan and her lawyer claim that the lyric, “by virtue of its wide appeal, condemnation, excoriation, disparaging or defamatory statements by the defendants about the plaintiff are destined to do irreparable harm to the plaintiff.”

Pitbull and his lawyers have responded by trotting out that old-school First Amendment thing, the one about free speech in America, noting that Ryan Seacrest also appears in the song and he isn’t suing (“get money like Seacrest”) and basically that the whole thing is silly. But is it, Pitbull, is it? Your words have power. They have made you a big star. And now you’ve hurt somebody’s feelings, done a respected celebrity irreparable harm, more irreparable harm than she could’ve done or repaired herself, allegedly. That’s why they call it irreparable. It can’t be repaired.

Back in the day, songwriters battled each other with songs: Neil Young vs. Lynyrd Skynyrd, Tupac vs. Snoop. Lindsay Lohan could certainly do the same. She had a record deal, didn’t she? Perhaps an answer song to Give Me Everything could be called “Give Me Everything Except You,” in which she raps, “I only got locked up for 13 days, just enough to change my ways” or something. Just trying to help here.

Well, maybe it’s easier to sue and open up a wonderful can of worms. As a public service to the highly-paid legal teams of celebrities unfairly condemned, excoriated, disparaged, defamed and irreparably harmed in popular songs, we have, at great effort (15 minutes on the Internet) uncovered the following potentially more serious cases. It’s a brave new world – for lawyers!

Jay-Z: Niggas In Paris – Contains the line, “Psycho: I’m liable to go Michael, take your pick: Jackson, Tyson, Jordan, game 6.” At least two of the three Michaels in question have been victims of an unfortunate calumny. Expected court award: $10 million each.

J Cole: Can’t Get Enough – “Make an old man get his glasses, make Wesley pay his taxes.” Wesley Snipes, currently in jail for tax evasion, will probably need the money when he gets out. $21.3 million for poking a sore spot.

Flo Rida, Good Feeling – “No trick plays, I’m Bill Gates, take a genius to understand me.” No, it takes a genius to understand iPad marketing. Any idiot can buy a PC. Bill Gates could use the money, too. $18 billion just for spite.

Tyga, Rack City: “Get it in the morning like Alonzo.” There is no evidence that retired Miami Heat centre Alonzo Mourning Jr. has sex in the morning, and besides, it’s none of anybody’s business. $1.5 million for intrusion and embarrassment.

You get the idea. There are thousands more actionable lyrics where those came from. Attorneys, gird your briefs.

Let’s go back now to the original rapper-clapper-celebrity-basher: Eminem, who was once sued by HIS OWN MOTHER for suggesting that she “smokes more pot than I do” on the Slim Shady LP. She eventually received a settlement of $1,600, less than the $11 million she originally sued him for and hardly enough for a pound of good weed. Eminem responded with words in a lovely little song called Kill You. It starts, “When I was just a little baby boy, my momma used to tell me these crazy things. She used to tell me my daddy was an evil man, she used to tell me he hated me. But then I got a little bit older and I realized, she was the crazy one.” After that, Eminem describes all sorts of unspeakable things he could do to the woman who gave him life, leading listeners to conclude that this is one sick puppy. We didn’t hear much from mom after that.

We’ve had a lot of fun here today, but Lindsay Lohan vs. Pitbull could be a very important milestone in the annals of entertainment law. There are similar events of the past to consider. Back in the day, the Beastie Boys recorded an album called Paul’s Boutique that plundered samples from every record they could get their hands on without paying a cent in royalties or a word of attribution to the original artists. Many fans declare it was also one of the best hip hop albums ever made, the last of its kind, for the age of free sampling was soon over. Ringtones, too, became a big deal, with artists and their publishing companies demanding royalties from snippets of their songs that by their very function demands they be turned off as quickly as possible. And now it’s no stretch to imagine that these same artists may be on the verge of having to pay other celebrities for poking fun at them in song lyrics – since the use of their names, their brands, may have an effect on the success of the songs. Maybe they negotiate fees as a star does with a cameo appearance in a feature film. They could do a contra deal: You diss me, I diss you, but not too much, OK? What’s next, comedy routines? A nickel for Kim Kardashian every time anyone utters the word “stupid?”

Oh, don’t worry. Madmen’s John Hamm just called her stupid – “Whether it’s Paris Hilton or Kim Kardashian or whoever, stupidity is certainly celebrated,” he told Elle UK magazine. And Kim didn’t sue. Not yet anyway. She just said it was “careless.” No word on Paris, though, who along with her buddy Lindsay, is probably right now combing song lyrics, talk show transcripts, magazine articles and blogs for any hints of condemnation, excoriation, disparaging or defamatory statements that may or may not cause irreparable harm. That ought to keep them busy for a while.