Hard Rock sues over 'offensive' Vegas reality show

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Hard Rock sues over 'offensive' Vegas reality show

Thu Sep 23, 2010 @ 01:05PM PST

By Eriq Gardner

Rehab-pool-party Can a raunchy reality TV show tarnish the brand of a rock-n-roll themed restaurant chain?

The Hard Rock Cafe owner is claiming in a new lawsuit that a TruTV series set at the Hard Rock Hotel & Casino in Las Vegas has damaged its name by showing an "offensive" destination where partygoers revel in drunken debauchery, acts of vandalism, sexual harassment, violence and criminality. 

The chain says the portrayal on "Rehab: Party at the Hard Rock Hotel" conflicts with what the Hard Rock is really about -- "fun consistent with the democratic free spirit of rock music."

The chain is suing the owner the Hard Rock Hotel, which operates under a trademark license from the Hard Rock parent company, as well as TruTV owner Turner Broadcasting System, Brad Lachman Prods and Genco Entertainment.

Images According to the complaint, filed in New York District Court on Tuesday, there are 134 Hard Rock Cafe restaurants around the world, which pulled in $200 million in revenue last year. The chain was originally co-founded by Peter Morton, who retained ownership of the Las Vegas casino bearing the Hard Rock name when he sold his portion of the franchise. As part of the agreement, the Las Vegas unit had to license the trademark and abide by certain conditions, including to protect the goodwill of the marks. The Vegas casino is now in the hands of a company called Hard Rock Hotel, Inc., which is different than plaintiff Hard Rock Cafe International.

In 2008, Turner began airing "Rehab" on TruTV. The program is now in its third season and showcases the outrageous pool parties held at the Las Vegas resort on Sundays.

The plaintiff alleges that the show portrays behavior at odds with its image, including an "unprofessional, incompetent, and/or physically and emotionally abusive" staff. The show is now allegedly having a negative impact on the Hard Rock Cafe business.

How? The complaint details a number of communications sent by outraged viewers of the show who have pledged never again to frequent Hard Rock establishments. For example, one viewer wrote that he is "appalled by... 'Little Hitler' Matt -- the so-called manager" character on the TV show and promised to tell everyone he meets never to spend money at the Hard Rock again.

Hmm. We imagine the free publicity from the show might have caused people to think of the Hard Rock as a cool destination, but Hard Rock Cafe International says that the Las Vegas property has breached its license agreement by allowing it to become associated with the show. It is also suing for tarnishing the trademark and is suing the production companies for infringing its mark.

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The Hollywood Reporter
The Hollywood Reporter, Esq. blog focuses on how the entertainment and media industries are impacted and influenced by the law. It is edited by Matthew Belloni with contributions from veteran legal reporter Eriq Gardner and others. Before joining The Hollywood Reporter, Belloni was a lawyer at an entertainment litigation firm in Los Angeles. He writes a column for THR devoted to entertainment law. Gardner is a New York-based writer and legal journalist. Send tips or comments to Matthew.Belloni@thr.com

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