Shattered Illusions

Should you be compensated for a shattered illusion? Maybe, but what if the illusion was shattered by a lawsuit claiming there was an illusion? Should you be able to sue the people who sued?

I bring this up in light of a 31-page California Court of Appeals ruling last week in which we learned that “it is beyond dispute that Michael Jackson was a famous entertainer” and that whether Jackson was the lead singer on three songs was “a matter of significant public interest.”

You know: Global warming, immigration, famine, Michael Jackson. All very significant.

OK, I’m being a snob. I’m sure Michael Jackson is extremely important to lots of people. But what if you bought a Jackson album, enjoyed it very much, and then found out that Jackson wasn’t the singer on three songs?

Have you been damaged? Have you been psychologically destroyed? Were you damaged by the non-Jackson singing or by finding out that Jackson was not singing?

What if the way you found out was by reading about it here? Is someone going to sue me?

I’m only a lowly journalist. I’m not worth suing. Put that thought out of your mind.

The ruling, in case you’re wondering, came after a class action was filed against a record company for putting out a posthumous album of Jackson songs that included three songs that might have been recorded by a sound-alike. According to the appellate ruling, “The complaint claims that thousands of putative class members purchased Michael and lost ‘money or property’ as a result of the alleged misleading representations.”

Money or property? It must be for the cost of the therapy needed after finding out that the guy with the high-pitched voice that sounded so lovely might not have been Michael.

The defense – successful so far – was that a promotional video – let me emphasize the word “promotional” – and an album cover should get First Amendment protection, usually reserved for noncommercial speech, because they “concerned music that is ‘itself protected by the First Amendment.’”

I think that means the singing was speech about whether the singing was Michael.

The First Amendment is a wonderful thing.

Other Imposters. Now, what if the illusion that’s been shattered has to do with the hamburger you just enjoyed? How damaged are you if someone then tells you that you just ate meat that was never part of a live animal?

OK, most of us want to know what’s going into our mouths, but if the thing we consumed seemed fine and is actually better for us and/or the environment, where’s the harm?

The answer is that the harm is to people who sell animal meat. So the legislature in Missouri passed a law prohibiting “misrepresenting” a product as “meat” if that product is “not derived from harvested production livestock or poultry.”

Litigation, of course, has ensued. The parent of The Tofurkey Company, a “plant-based meat corporation,” and a nonprofit that advocates for “plant-based and clean meats” filed a federal suit last week claiming the Missouri law is unconstitutional for, among other things, violating the First Amendment.

A quick aside here – you may be wondering what clean meats are. No, they’re not steaks that have been washed. It turns out that it’s meat cultured in vitro that grows into muscle tissue. So it’s kind of like growing a plant that turns into real hamburger.

According to the lawsuit, Tofurkey doesn’t mislead anyone, and all its products are clearly labeled as plant-based. So what’s the problem?

“(B)ecause its labels include terms applied also to conventional meat, like ‘kielbasa,’ ‘hot dogs,’ ‘ham roast,’ ‘burgers,’ and ‘bologna,’ Tofurky reasonably fears prosecution under the Statute.”

Picture district attorney candidates in Missouri running on a platform of protecting people who can’t read labels from the scourge of food that kind of sounds like meat but really isn’t. The first criminal trial should be fascinating.


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