Sacha Baron Cohen, the creator of the character “Borat” has sued privately-owned Massachusetts cannabis company Solar Therapeutics Inc. and the company’s President Edward Dow III for $9 million. Cohen is angry that his likeness as the character Borat was used without his permission on a billboard that was placed on a busy highway. The lawsuit claims that by using Cohen’s image it looks as if he is endorsing cannabis products.
The case states, ” 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. Mr. Baron Cohen never has been involved in advertising any commercial products or services anywhere in the United States or the United Kingdom, despite countless opportunities to do so.”
Solar Therapeutics owns one dispensary in Somerset Massachusetts and has two more planned to open in 2021. The company describes its product as sustainable cannabis.
Cohen Is Anti-Cannabis
Using Cohen’s image is an odd choice for a cannabis company as the comedian has consistently stated his aversion to the plant. “The reason why Mr. Baron Cohen never has used cannabis is that he does not believe it is a healthy choice. 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. 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 – a controversy in which many rabbinical leaders have stated that cannabis use is a violation of Jewish law.” He also notes in the court case that cannabis is still federally illegal and a controversial product that he has no desire to promote.
On April 24, 2021, Mr. Baron Cohen’s attorney sent a cease-and desist letter objecting to Defendants’ wrongful actions and Solar Therapeutics said that they removed the Billboard three days later on April 27, 2021. However, the case claims the company has declined to compensate Mr. Baron Cohen for the exploitation of his image and his Borat character for the benefit of the Defendants and their revenues. the case claims that Solar Therapeutics makes $26 million a year.
Deciding on $9 Million
The actor also explained in the case how the damage amount of $9 million was decided. Citing the example of celebrity Kim Kardashian receiving $300,000 per tweet for simply mentioning brand names on Twitter and noting that a jury awarded $8.9 million to basketball star Michael Jordan against a grocery company for a magazine advertisement that included Mr. Jordan’s image without his permission.