It likely won’t totally blow your mind, to paraphrase Toni Basil’s 1982 hit “Mickey,” but today the ex-So You Think You Can Dance guest judge is going after the Walt Disney Company, Viacom, South Park and others in court for non-consensual use of her persona, image and voice. At more than $750 for every time an “unauthorized use” was seen, heard or broadcast, highly respected choreographer Basil could be looking at some mighty fine dough, especially where Barack Obama was used in her name.
“TWDC never sought or obtained consent to use Basil’s voice and persona to market its officially licensed Disney clothing line,” says the wide ranging, multi-claim complaint that seeks an injunction and punitive, actual and emotional-distress damages (read it here). “Basil was never consulted and would never consent to the use of her voice, persona, image or named coupled with Disney products,” the filing in LA Superior Court on Thursday adds in terms you don’t hear often in Hollywood nowadays. “Basil’s exclusive right to publicity has been damaged by the coupling with Mickey Mouse and the Disney brand.”
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With her ire primarily focused on licensing by defendants Razor & Tie Direct and its various subsidiaries, the jury-seeking 20-page complaint details a long, complex and, according to the plaintiff, perhaps sleight-of-hand journey of the rights to Basil’s No. 1 hit rendition of the song penned by Mike Chapman and Nicky Chinn. One she is not pleased with, Disney and otherwise.
“Upon notification of the unauthorized commercial use of Plaintiff’s song ‘Mickey’ along with the implied endorsement causes Plaintiff to become withdrawn, despondent and physically ill,” Basil’s legal paperwork states. “She has experienced sleep deprivation, nightmares, and anxiety as a result of Defendants’ actions,” it asserts.
Viacom, Disney and South Park producers Central Productions have not responded to request for comment on today’s filing.
The complaint depicts that those ailments of Basil’s come from very specific places, so to speak — and here’s where President Obama comes in
“South Park Defendants never sought or obtained consent from Basil for the use of her voice, persona and name in an episode of South Park with particularly strong political undertones,” Basil’s lawyers at Huntington Beach’s FEM Law Group also noted.
If you don’t remember it, there were more overtones than undertones in that South Park episode from November 5, 2008, when Barack Obama was elected the 44th President of the United States. Among other flights of fancy and social satire, a riot-like scene uses the lyrics to Basil’s “Mickey” sung as “Obama, you’re so fine, you’re so fine you blow my mind, hey Obama, hey Obama.”
Claiming violation of her right of publicity and RICO Act violations, among others, Basil is not happy with that, the Disney clothing line sold in Forever 21 (another defendant) and the accompanying video to the products. Nor is she over the moon about a lip-syncing segment in an VH1-aired episode of RuPaul’s Drag Race where contestants sang along to her Spanish-language recording of “Mickey.”
“Plaintiff did not become aware of the commercial synchronization and licensing of ‘Mickey’ by R&T Defendants, including the unauthorized use of her voice, name, image and/or celebrity endorsement of Defendants until January 12, 2017,” the complaint explains, laying out her various attempts to get R&T to stop licensing the song and give her a full accounting. “Until that time she was unaware of the use of her voice, likeness, and/or persona in an episode of South Park, in a Forever 21 advertisement, and in an episode of RuPaul’s Drag Race, among others.”
Of course, it is very likely that Disney, Viacom, the South Park crew and Forever 21 will move fast to get out of this matter by pleading that they had no idea that R&T did not hold the rights to “Mickey.” The question is: Will a judge or Toni Basil agree?
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