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Apr 24, 2014

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SABMiller sues T-shirt maker

Brewer says Carling Black Label shirt tarnishes brand in South Africa

Mar 11, 2003 - A South African entrepreneur selling T-shirts that parody major brands finds himself battling brewing giant SABMiller, among others.

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SABMiller, the South African-based brewery that recently bought Miller Brewing in the United States, has sued Justin Nurse, 25, for abusing Carling Black Label, a popular seller in South Africa.

Nurse's Laugh it Off company in Cape Town has printed a shirt with a red, black and white logo, similar to Black Label's, but with the wording changed to read: "Black Labour - White Guilt."

The message refers to South Africa's legacy of apartheid. Nurse sells his T-shirts for 120 rands ($15) in malls and flea markets.

He says he does it to prompt debate around the Black Label brand, a beer known to target South Africa's large black working class. "All we have attempted to do is to assert our right to express our views as to the ridiculousness of many of these brands," he said.

He calls what he is doing "culture jamming," and says he is employing "a type of ideological jujitsu" to prompt debate on the pervasive power which huge corporations exert over society.

"Laugh it Off is tiny. SABMiller is huge. By using the power of their own marketing machine against them, our issues are far more likely to inspire discussion in a healthy democratic South Africa," Nurse said.

SABMiller counters that Nurse has sought to tarnish Black Label with baseless racial statements and use the brand to milk money from the sale of his T-shirts.

"If this is allowed to pass, other brands may become vulnerable to this kind of action from anyone. Our brands are our lifeblood, and we are allowed to defend them," said David Williams, SABMiller's communications manager.

SABMiller is not the only big corporation seeking action against Nurse. Danish block toy giant Lego has also sued him. Lego's lawsuit concerns a T-shirt which depicts two Lego figures in a suggestive position with the word "Legover" printed beneath them.

Standard Bank, one of South Africa's largest banks, attempted to raid local stores a year ago to seize T-shirts they deemed to be defamatory in their use of the Standard Bank logo.


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