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naked cowboy lawsuit makes headlines

Robert Burck, aka The Naked Cowboy, has won the right to sue M&Ms for copyright infringement. The Mars candy company has been running a series of ads depicting the candies dressed up as favorite New York icons, including the Statue of Liberty and King Kong. One of the ads features the blue M&M dressed like the Naked Cowboy, in underwear, cowboy boots and a cowboy hat and playing guitar.

Burck, a native of Cincinnati, has trademarked his name and his look, meaning it's only available to use with his permission. The Naked Cowboy named Mars and Chute Gerdeman, the agency behind the M&Ms commercial, in his copyright infringement lawsuit. The lawsuit has been variously reported at being between $4 and $6 million.

The news story brings to mind Tom Waits, who changed copyright and trademark infringement lawsuits forever when he sued the company that makes Doritos. After the raspy-voiced singer refused to do a commercial for the chips (after refusing to do any commercials, ever), Frito-Lay opted to record a song that sounded similar to Waits' music, using a singer that sounded just like him, for their commercials. Waits sued Frito-Lay, for voice misappropriation and false endorsement and won $2.6 million in the lawsuit, a judgment that also held up in appeals.

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