Hard Rock sues TruTV over 'Rehab' show

Chain claims damages over drunken debauchery

The Hard Rock Cafe chain is claiming that a TruTV reality show set at the Hard Rock Hotel in Las Vegas has damaged its name by showing an "offensive" destination where partygoers revel in drunken debauchery, acts of vandalism, sexual harassment, violence and criminality.

In a new lawsuit, the chain says the portrayal on "Rehab: Party at the Hard Rock Hotel" conflicts with what the Hard Rock is really about -- "fun consistent with the democratic free spirit of rock music."

The chain is suing the owner of one of its licensees, the Hard Rock Hotel & Casino in Las Vegas, as well as TruTV parent Turner Broadcasting Systems, Brad Lachman Prods and Genco Entertainment.

According to the complaint, filed in New York District Court on Tuesday, there are 134 Hard Rock Cafe restaurants around the world, which pulled in $200 million in revenue last year. The chain was originally co-founded by Peter Morton, who retained ownership of the Las Vegas casino bearing the Hard Rock name when he sold his portion of the franchise. As part of the agreement, the Las Vegas unit had to license the trademark and abide by certain conditions, including to protect the goodwill of the marks. The Vegas casino is now in the hands of a company called Hard Rock Hotel, Inc., which is different than plaintiff Hard Rock Cafe International.

In 2008, Turner began airing "Rehab" on its truTV channel. The program is now in its third season and showcases the outrageous pool parties held at the Las Vegas resort on Sundays.

The plaintiff alleges that the show portrays behavior at odds with its image, including an "unprofessional, incompetent, and/or physically and emotionally abusive" staff. The show is now allegedly having a negative impact on the Hard Rock Cafe business.

How? The complaint details a number of communications sent by outraged viewers of the show who have pledged never again to frequent Hard Rock establishments. For example, one viewer writes he is "appalled by... 'Little Hitler' Matt -- the so-called manager" character on the TV show and promises to tell everyone he meets never to spend money at the Hard Rock again.

One imagines that the free publicity from the show has encouraged more than a few revelers to consider the Hard Rock for their next trip, but Hard Rock Cafe International says that the Las Vegas property has breached its license agreement by allowing it to become associated with the show. It is also suing for tarnishing the trademark and is suing the production companies for infringing its trademark.
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