Diet Pepsi, you've got the right one, baby. Right?
No way, says an Annapolis ventriloquist who says he penned the phrase to the popular jingle soul singer Ray Charles has crooned over millions of television sets around the world the last two years.
Arthur Takeall, 45, has filed a lawsuit in U.S. District Court in Baltimore against Pepsico Inc. He alleges that the nation's No. 2 soft drink maker used the words for a jingle he sent to the company in 1989 when he sought funding for an educational programwith his dummy, Scooter.
"Scooter, or Scooter and I, developed what we consider our trademark," Mr. Takeall said yesterday. "It distinguishes us from other ventriloquists."
He said the duo has used the phrases "You got the right one, uh-huh" and the slightly more grammatical "You've got the right one, uh-huh" since they began doing a nightclub act in 1983. The suit claims he also used the phrase at the Louisiana World Exposition in 1984.
He said he later used the line for educational programs in the National Job Corps and more recently while working with local agencies, including the Anne Arundel County Sheriff's Department, in programs designed to help steer children away from drugs.
In his ventriloquist act, he said, Scooter would frequently show his approval of a woman by saying, "You got the right one, uh-huh," as well as at various other points. Unlike Mr. Charles, neither Mr. Takeall nor Scooter used the word "baby."
Mr. Takeall said he has held negotiations with Pepsico, but he did not agree with the company's settlement proposal. He declined to disclose the terms of the offers.
Colin Dobbin, a lawyer for the Purchase, N.Y.-based company, acknowledged that Mr. Takeall had contacted the company, but he wouldn't characterize the talks as settlement discussions. He denied the suit's allegations.
"Pepsico's position is that we developed the slogan, meaning our advertising agency developed the slogan," he said. "We did not steal anything or infringe on anyone else's copyright."
Mr. Takeall says he sent Pepsico a letter on June 30, 1989, offering to sell the company the commercial rights to his copyrighted phrase. He included a copy of a letter dated June 27, 1989, in his federal court filing.
In an interview yesterday, he said he also sent a videotaped proposal to the company that included segments of the ventriloquist act using the "right one" line. He said the company didn't respond to either proposal. He heard the phrase six months later, but neither his lips nor Scooter's were moving, he said.
"The Super Bowl was on when I started to receive telephone calls," he said. "People who knew of my act, some who were entertainers, started congratulating me on my commercial," he said. "And when I turned on the TV, I saw someone else was singing my slogan."
Mr. Takeall said the company even copied his call-and-response format. Either he or Scooter would say to young audiences, "You've got the right one," he said, and he would cue the children to respond "Uh-huh," as Mr. Charles does with his singers.
The suit alleges that Pepsico confused people about the jingle's origin, which he said has destroyed his ability to use the line in his act. The suit charges that Pepsico breached a contract by using the idea he submitted without paying for it and that the company enriched itself through a successful advertising campaign based on the phrase.
Mr. Takeall, a 1965 graduate of the former Bates High School in Annapolis, said Pepsico's use of the slogan "hurts a lot."
NB He's seeking $130 million plus other damages to ease the pain.