McDonald’s Corp and Arnold Worldwide LLC, a Boston ad agency, are fighting back in a recent case filed in the US District Court for the District of Massachusetts. The suit, filed by Daniel T. Calden, alleges that the fast food company made a parody of a song that he had submitted as part of the “Big Mac Chant” contest launched by McDonald’s Corp on Myspace.com in 2008.
Calden submitted the video, which showed him with a beard, wearing sunglasses, and using a sock puppet and singing “Big Mac. Big Mac. Big Mac. Everybody wants to eat a Big Mac.” The video was submitted as part of a 2008 contest launched by McDonald’s and Arnold on Myspace.com. Days after he submitted it, the entry was removed from the website and, when Calden inquired as to why it was removed, he received no response from Myspace.com or McDonald’s. A year later, McDonald’s launched a commercial that had a mounted fish singing to a bearded man about how it wanted its Filet-O-Fish back.
Calden is suing for intellectual property theft, breach of contest contract, impropriety in the method of acquiring an idea, copyright infringement, and interference of the monies earned due to commercial, merchandising, sale of ringtones and MP3s and is demanding $20 million as compensation.
McDonald’s recently lodged their response, via a motion to dismiss. The motion states that “a simple side-by-side comparison of the two works subject to this action ... demonstrates there is absolutely no similarity.” The lawyers attached a memorandum to the motion that explains the differences in the two works. “The only potentially similar elements between the submission and the singing fish commercial appear to be that both involve McDonald’s sandwiches, men, nonhuman characters, and music about food,” the memorandum states.
User-generated content promotions are a great way to generate interest in your brand, as well engaging the web community in your products and services. However, this case demonstrates the risk involved in these contests, as they do require rules that cover the appropriate intellectual property rights, as well as include the required disclosures under gaming and lottery laws. But, even when you have these rules, entrants may still get discouraged or feel that they had rights that were violated. These issues should be carefully considered before launching any such promotion.