Sacha Baron Cohen sues dispensary over ad featuring Borat.

Liz Filmer
17 Jul 2021

British actor Sacha Baron Cohen has launched legal action against a US cannabis dispensary in Massachusetts for using his infamous character Borat on a billboard ad.

The dispensary has used the image of the fictional Kazakhstan native journalist with both thumbs up alongside the catchphrase "it's nice". The billboard went up on April 19th and disappeared on April 27th, three days after Baron Cohen's lawyer had sent a cease-and-desist order.

Court documents reveal that Mr Baron Cohen is pursuing damages of at least $9m (£6.5m)in response to alleged copyright infringement and false advertising. The lawyer representing the actor states, "By use of the billboard, the defendants have falsely conveyed that Mr Baron Cohen is endorsing their products."

Solar Therapeutics said they took the billboard down after receiving a cease-and-desist order from Baron Cohen's legal team. However, they have failed to compensate Baron Cohen for the unauthorised use of his image and intellectual property.

Court papers state that "Cannabis remains a controversial product that Mr Baron Cohen has no interest in endorsing, promoting or advertising,"
Legal papers filed July 12th outline how the actor and satirist is an observant Orthodox Jew. Proud of his cultural heritage Baron Cohen does not wish to be involved in the heated controversy among the Orthodox Jewish community about whether cannabis use fits in with Jewish traditions, customs, and rules." Many rabbinical leaders have said that they view cannabis use as a violation of Jewish law.

The Star has never advertised any product in the UK or US for fear that it could "weaken his credibility as an actor and as a serious social activist". He is very protective of his image and persona, turning down $4m (£2.9m) to star in a car advert as Borat, proving the characters "very significant commercial value". His legal team say that the dispensary "took a gamble" in using the image of Borat, thinking that Baron Cohen would never see it.

The controversial sequel "Borat! Cultural Learnings of America for Make Benefit Glorious Nation of Kazakhstan" was released in 2006 to great success, grossing $262m on an $18m budget and quickly establishing the character as a feature of popular culture worldwide. Last year the character returned to screens in "Borat Subsequent Moviefilm", causing much controversy and winning Baron Cohen the Best Actor award at the 2021 Golden Globes.

The Star's controversial characters such as Borat, Ali G and Bruno are known for being pretty outspoken and blurring the lines between activism and comedy. However, the actor himself is pretty serious. Having studied History and anti-semitism at Cambridge, it would appear that he is not joking at all in this instance.  

Liz Filmer