Guns N' Roses and frontman Axl Rose has threatened legal proceedings against Dr Pepper over an unauthorised publicity stunt that offered a free bottle of the soft drink to every American in celebration of the band's first new album in 14 years.
Citing intellectual property abuse, Beverly Hills-based lawyer Alan S Gutman said Dr Pepper's promotion was "an unmitigated disaster which defrauded consumers and, in the eyes of vocal fans, 'ruined' the day of Chinese Democracy's release."
A trademark attorney said that Rose may have had a strong case – but his own behaviour eight months ago appears to have weakened it.
The high-profile album was the subject of numerous missed deadlines over several years. These repeated delays became the subject of a Dr Pepper press release in March.
"In an unprecedented show of solidarity with Axl, everyone in America, except estranged GNR guitarists Slash and Buckethead, will receive a free can of Dr Pepper if the album ships some time – anytime! – in 2008," it said.
The release made a joke of the album's high-profile delays, pointing out that the soft drink shared Rose's quest for perfection. "We know once it's released, people will refer to it as 'Dr Pepper for the ears' because it will be such a refreshing blend of rich, bold sounds – an instant classic," said the release.
When it became clear that Chinese Democracy would be released in 2008, Dr Pepper said it would honour its promise. However, in what Gutman called "a cynical attempt to mitigate its exposure," Dr Pepper restricted the offer to a 24-hour window. Americans had to visit drpepper.com on Sunday, the day of the album's release, to obtain a coupon that could be redeemed for a free drink.
The rush for coupons caused the website to crash. Dr Pepper extended the deadline for another day, but some fans then complained on other sites that they had been unable to obtain a coupon.
On Tuesday, the day after the offer expired, Rose's lawyer wrote to Larry Young, CEO of Dr Pepper Snapple Group Inc.
"To begin with, our clients are outraged at your treatment of their fans and the American public in general," wrote Gutman. He described the company's failure to meet demand as "a complete fiasco".
He accused the drinks company of a "raw and damaging commercial exploitation of our clients' rights" and said that consumers had been misled into thinking that there was a "copromotional relationship" between the parties. "This association is even more damaging in light of your shoddy execution of your disingenuous giveaway offer," he wrote.
However, the letter from Gutman does not mention that his client appeared to respond to Dr Pepper's initial announcement. A statement appeared on the official Guns N' Roses website two days after the original Dr Pepper press release was issued.
Attributed to Axl Rose, it said: "We are surprised and very happy to have the support of Dr Pepper with our album Chinese Democracy as for us this came totally out of the blue. If there is any involvement with this promotion by our record company or others we are unaware of such at this time. And as some of Buckethead's performances are on our album I'll share my Dr Pepper with him."