Sacha Baron Cohen sues over cannabis billboard featuring Borat character

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image copyrightAmazon Studios
image captionBorat Sagdiyev as he appears in Amazon Studios' Borat Subsequent Moviefilm

Sacha Baron Cohen has taken legal action against a US cannabis dispensary after it used his Borat character on a billboard in Massachusetts, USA.

The British star's fictional Kazakh journalist featured on an advert promoting Solar Sustainable Cannabis alongside his "It's Nice!" catchphrase.

The lawsuit says Baron Cohen has never used cannabis and would not advertise the drug for any amount of money.

He is seeking damages of at least $9m (£6.5m). The company is yet to respond.

The legal action, filed on Monday in Massachusetts, accuses Solar Therapeutics of copyright infringement and false advertising.

Baron Cohen's lawyer alleges the company "took a gamble" in using the actor and satirist's likeness, thinking he would never see it.

The actor's representative said Baron Cohen does not believe cannabis - which remains illegal in a number of US states - is a "healthy choice".

He said the star had never advertised any product in the UK or US over fears it would "weaken his credibility as an actor and as a serious social activist".

It says the actor's persona is "of very significant commercial value" and that he had previously turned down $4m (£2.9m) to appear in a car advert.

image copyrightReuters
image captionBaron Cohen won a Golden Globe this year for playing the bumbling journalist Borat

An image of the billboard, which Solar Therapeutics said had been taken down, is included in court documents obtained by the Hollywood Reporter.

They state that Baron Cohen is "highly protective of his image and persona" and has mocked so-called "stoner" culture through his Ali G character.

"Cannabis remains a controversial product that Mr Baron Cohen has no interest in endorsing, promoting or advertising," the legal action continues.

"In addition, Mr Baron Cohen was born into an Orthodox Jewish family; he is an observant Jew; and he is proud of his cultural heritage. He does not wish to be involved in the heated controversy among the Orthodox Jewish community about whether cannabis can be used under Jewish traditions, customs, and rules."

Cannabis for medical and recreational use is legal in Massachusetts.

Borat Sagdiyev first appeared in Baron Cohen's The Ali G show and went on to star in his own Oscar-nominated movie in 2006.

The character returned to the screen last year in Borat Subsequent Moviefilm, for which Baron Cohen won a best actor award at this year's Golden Globes.

Kazakhstan's tourism board went on to use Borat's catchphrase in an advertising campaign highlighting the country's scenery and culture.

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