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Chinua Achebe Takes On 50 Cent

In one corner, it’s Chinua Achebe, Nigerian author of Things Fall Apart—one of the most celebrated novels in the history of the planet.

In the other corner, it’s 50 Cent, famous rapper, wanna-be actor.

Last year, these two faced off in a lawsuit showdown—slightly less interesting than a showcase showdown on The Price Is Right.

At issue, the name of 50 Cent’s upcoming movie at the time, Things Fall Apart. Achebe—or, more accurately, Achebe’s lawyers—said you can’t do that, Fiddy. You can’t use the name of one of the most celebrated novels in the world for your low end movie about a football player with cancer.

So Achebe sued Mr. Cent. And then Mr. Cent allegedly offered Achebe $1 million for the rights to the title. Achebe was insulted. His lawyers responded:

“The novel with the said title was initially produced in 1958.”[It is] listed as the most-read book in modern African literature, and won’t be sold for even £1bn.”

Well said, Mr. Achebe’s lawyers. Mr. Cent changed the name of the film to All Things Fall Apart.

Interesting, though, that the title of Things Fall Apart actually comes from a Yeats poem. And I know books and movies have shared titles in the past.

I wonder if Achebe’s team sued because of the perceived artistic merit of the film? In other words, had the film starred Denzel Washington and still had no connection to the book, would they still have sued?

All of this leads into a greater discussion on copyright, which I have neither the time nor motivation to research and provide answers on why Fiddy’s people had to change the name.

Whose side do you fall on? Any lawyers out there that can offer your two cents?

(Image: Wikimedia Commons)

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17 Comments Post a comment
  1. Ha! I’m on Achebe’s side of-course (as you can see in my latest post -:)

    I did see the movie as well and enjoyed it.

    Like

    June 5, 2012
  2. Ohh. Gross! That was the most uncalled for act. The world is a global village. The fact that a tittle of a movie is same as the tittle of your book doesn’t mean the other person is not thinking in the same direction. What if ,it was a coincidence? Well , damn if I have to produce a film or write a novel and some blokes approach me to say “hey, we got that name already”. Who are you!

    Like

    June 5, 2012
    • I think it was a coincidence and unintended. But the law prevents someone from capitalizing on the name of another book or movie that they had nothing to do with.

      Like

      June 5, 2012
  3. Reblogged this on The Book Lover's Musings and commented:
    Achebe and Wole Soyinka are two of my favourite authors… 50 Cent is, well, not.

    Like

    June 5, 2012
  4. Having been “forced” into becoming somewhat knowledgeable on copyright matters at work (the previous “expert” left and my boss chose me, yay!), this feels more like a trademark issue than anything. No one can copyright a title, but a title does become an important part of a brand. And because “Things Fall Apart” has become such an important and well known book, the presence of another “artistic” work on the market with the same name would only confuse consumers, and detract from the brand of the novel. I agree with Achebe. They had the name first and made it popular. And because 50 cent’s film has nothing at all to do with the novel, they had no right to use the name (and if the film did resemble the novel, then Achebe or his estate would have been entitled to licensing fees.)

    As as parallel example, imagine what would happen if you tried opening a family restaurant and named it Disney Land–the house of mouse would be all over you so fast…

    Like

    June 5, 2012
    • There you go. If the film WAS based on the novel, I wonder if Achebe could make them change the name because the movie sucked so bad?

      Like

      June 5, 2012
  5. I think if the movie was a low-end one, Achebe was well within his rights to sue. Things Fall Apart is a classic, and this movie is just riding along on the popularity of the novel even though it has nothing to do with it.

    Like

    June 5, 2012
  6. Sp8sr #

    Our system of jurisprudence has its roots in English common law, where there were essentially two pathways to recompense– the legal path, and the equitable path. Here in Tennessee, we still have a two- path system: courts of law, and courts of equity. The latter are known as Chancery Courts; those judges are called Chancellors.

    I don’t know the statistics, but I believe most states–and certainly the Federal system–have abandoned this two-path system and merged it into one. For my part, the law/equity system seems to work quite well.

    The point? Applying legal principles, there would be no sustainable case. Titles cannot be copyrighted. But would it be fair for someone to write a book and call it, say, Unbroken, and thus piggyback on the popularity of that splendid example of a page-turner?

    That would boil down to a question of fairness, which is what the equity system is all about.

    Like

    June 5, 2012
  7. This all seems kind of ironic…Achebe sued 50 Cent for using the title that he had already taken from Yeats…I’m befuddled!

    Like

    June 5, 2012
    • Well, it was a line in a Yeats poem, not the title itself.

      Like

      June 5, 2012
  8. All law and reasonableness aside, I’m with Achebe–just because Fiddy is kind of a schmuck. Ha!

    Like

    June 5, 2012
  9. Justin #

    Interesting that this sparked a lawsuit. In 1999 the hip hop group the Roots released a grammy nominated album called Things Fall Apart, named after the novel. They must have received approval from Achebe from before or something.

    Like

    June 5, 2012
    • I think the difference is that the 50 Cent movie had nothing to do with the novel and could’ve been misinterpreted as having something to do with it.

      Like

      June 5, 2012
  10. Copyright theft is an especially heinous crime when involving movies by rappers (personal opinion vs legal one). Unfortunately, seventy years after Achebe’s death the title Things Fall Apart will no longer be safeguarded and I fully anticipate some self-help or women’s fiction book seizing on it eagerly.

    Like

    June 10, 2012

Trackbacks & Pingbacks

  1. Great Stuff on the Writers’ Blogs, June 5, 2012 « cochisewriters
  2. ما هي الكلمات المفتاحية

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