(This story has been updated with comment from Solar Therapeutics.)
Comedian and actor Sacha Baron Cohen is suing Massachusetts marijuana cultivator and retailer Solar Therapeutics for at least $9 million over a billboard that used an image of his popular “Borat” movie character.
According to an image in a complaint filed Monday in the U.S. District Court for the District of Massachusetts, the billboard on an interstate highway showed Cohen – in character as the fictional Kazakh journalist Borat Sagdiyev – giving a thumbs-up hand gesture alongside the phrase “It’s Nice!” and Solar Therapeutics brandings.
A copy of the complaint has been posted online by The Hollywood Reporter.
The complaint – which charges that “It’s Nice” refers to the Borat catchphrase “Nice!” – alleges that the billboard was “intentionally designed to capitalize on the goodwill, recognition, and fame associated with Mr. Baron Cohen and his Borat character.”
The complaint says the Borat character is “of very significant value” and that Solar never received authorization to use the Borat image.
Baron Cohen has not used cannabis and “has no interest in endorsing, promoting, or advertising” it, the complaint notes.
His lawyer sent a cease-and-desist letter to Solar on April 24, and the billboard was removed April 27.
However, the complaint alleges Solar has not compensated Baron Cohen “for the exploitation of his image.”
In a statement to MJBizDaily, Solar said it was aware of the allegations and highlighted the fact that the company had the billboard removed after receiving the cease-and-desist letter.
“As there is an active case before the court, we have no further comment at this time,” he company said in the statement.
The lawsuit seeks actual damages of at least $9 million with an award of treble damages on one claim, as well as punitive damages, disgorgement of profits attributable to the billboard, and a permanent injunction preventing Solar from using Baron Cohen’s likeness again.
Solar Therapeutics and its CEO Edward Dow III are both named as defendants.