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Settlement Commits Music Producers to Honor Rosa Parks

Hip-Hop Song Using Rights Icon's Name Led to Suit Against Group OutKast, Recording Firms

By Peter Slevin
Washington Post Staff Writer
Friday, April 15, 2005; Page A03

CHICAGO, April 14 -- Attorneys for civil rights icon Rosa Parks and a group of music producers settled a dispute over the use of her name by the hip-hop group OutKast. They announced two tributes to her legacy Thursday and promised that she will live in comfort for the rest of her life.

"You can believe she will be well taken care of," said former Detroit mayor Dennis Archer, who was appointed Parks's guardian by a federal judge. "She'll be very secure."

Civil rights pioneer Rosa Parks, shown in 1998, is now 92 and afflicted with dementia. (David Bundy -- AP)

Archer said a music CD will be produced by Sony BMG, with OutKast among the performers. The agreement also provides for a television tribute in honor of Parks, the black woman who famously refused in 1955 to surrender her seat to a white passenger on a Montgomery, Ala., bus.

"What we hope to accomplish is to have a terrific, nationally televised tribute to Mrs. Parks that OutKast and others will perform in," said Archer, who plans to host the program. "It could be cable. It could be one of the national stations."

A DVD of the program, if all goes according to plan, will be distributed to thousands of schools. No financial terms were announced, and Archer would not discuss any.

The settlement ends a lawsuit that provided a disturbing window into the decline of Parks, a former seamstress whose decision sparked the Montgomery bus boycott and emboldened a generation.

Parks, who lives in Detroit, has dementia and is only faintly aware of what is happening around her. When lawyer Gregory Reed filed a $5 billion suit on her behalf against the music producers, some of Parks's relatives fretted that she was being used.

Reed argued that OutKast profited through misrepresentation when it titled a song "Rosa Parks" without permission. The lyrics do not mention Parks, but they contain vulgarity and sexual references that bothered her, Reed said.

The refrain is "Ah ha, hush that fuss. Everybody move to the back of the bus."

Reed dropped OutKast from the lawsuit in a new version filed last year, but the group was part of the deal announced Thursday by Archer. Also participating are Sony BMG, Arista Records and LaFace Records.

Attorneys for the music companies argued that OutKast intended no harm and was protected by First Amendment guarantees of free speech. While settlement negotiations were underway, lawyer Joseph Beck said, "We've always been willing to do something for Mrs. Parks, not because we have to -- because under the law we don't -- but because we respect her."

Florida trial lawyer Willie Gary, representing Parks, countered by producing a 48-minute videotape designed to show how a jury could perceive the "Rosa Parks" song as an injustice to the real Rosa Parks and financially punish the producers.

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