Over the past few years rapper and entrepreneur 50 Cent has built a hugely successful television series franchise on the TV network Starz, but his latest crime-drama series, “BMF,” is now facing a trademark infringement lawsuit.
According to Forbes, Byron Belin filed a lawsuit against media empires Starz, Lions Gate, and Curtis “50 Cent” Jackson’s G Unit Brands and television company in December 2021. The 17-page lawsuit alleges that Belin owns the rights to the trademark “BMF” and that the hit drama, including all merchandise tied to the branding of the show, infringes on his ownership rights. Belin claimed that he and his media partners have utilized the trademark to sell and distribute television services since 2017.
The television series chronicles the real-life story of two brothers in the 1980s who rose up to run a money laundering and drug dealing organization in Detroit known as the Black Mafia Family. The series, written and also co-executive produced by Randy Huggins, piloted last year in September. The crime drama topped the charts with rave reviews as one of the most highly engaged series to stream on the Starz app and across OTT platforms, in the U.S, and four foreign markets.
Shortly following a successful first season, 50 Cent was hit with an infringement case stating that under the Lanham Act, also known as the Trademark Act of 1946, that governs trademarks, the rapper-turned-TV maven’s use of BMF for the series is consistent with “unfair competition, false designation of origin, trademark counterfeiting, and false advertising, among other additional claims,” Forbes reported.
However, given that the show is based on real-life events, 50 Cent has countered the lawsuit, claiming that the name “Black Mafia Family” wasn’t an original expressive work of Belin’s. Jackson’s legal team filed a motion to dismiss, saying that the title of the show is protected by the First Amendment under Rogers v. Grimaldi, a case that has been used to analyze artistic relevance to infringement claims.
50 Cent claims his use of “BMF” is an expressive work shortened in the form of an acronym for Black Mafia Family.
The litmus test for evaluating whether the use of a title should be barred is generally when the use of the trademark “has no artistic relevance to the underlying work whatsoever”; or, if it “explicitly misleads as to the source or content of the work.”
This month Belin filed a First Amended Complaint that expresses that the use of BMF is “explicitly misleading.” However, the success of his case hinges on him providing specific proof, and that he owns a valid trademark.
Amid the ongoing litigation, production for the series has not stopped and a second season is slated to be released in September 2022.
The lawsuit comes at a time when 50 Cent has been at odds with Starz. He has accused them on social media of leaking episodes of “Power,” stalling production timelines, among other things.
He has also called out Starz over “BMF” as well. In November 2021, he called Starz “a sh-t show” after episode 7 aired ahead of its scheduled time.