Yao Ming: A Question Of Principle

Coca-Cola bottles featuring Houston Rockets center Yao Ming (13) on the label with other basketball players, next to Pepsi bottles at a supermarket in Shanghai, Monday, May 26, 2003. Players on left is Menk Bateer of the San Antonio Spurs and right is China's Guo Shiqiang.
Yao Ming has sued Coca-Cola's Chinese subsidiary, accusing it of using his picture without permission on commemorative bottles sold in his hometown of Shanghai.

The lawsuit was filed Friday in a court in Shanghai, which will decide this week whether to accept it, the Houston Rockets center's agent, Erik Zhang, said Monday.

According to Yao's Web site, he's demanding that Coke immediately stop using his photo and image.

He also wants an apology published in Chinese media and compensation of 1 yuan (12 cents) for "spiritual and economic losses," said a statement on the Web site.

"The only purpose of this lawsuit is to protect Yao Ming's legal rights, his rights of image and name in particular," the statement said. "The amount of compensation is not a focus."

Yao, who has an endorsement deal with soft-drink rival Pepsi, complained two weeks ago about Coke using his image and threatened possible legal action.

Coca-Cola China hasn't received court papers, but has asked to talk to Yao's representatives in hopes of settling the dispute "in an amicable way," spokeswoman Brenda Lee said.

The bottles show Yao, San Antonio player Menk Bateer and Chinese player Guo Shiqiang in China's national team uniforms. Yao, the No. 1 draft pick in the NBA last year, and Bateer played for China last year in the Asian Games.

Coke says it has the right to show groups of at least three members of the Chinese national team under a sponsorship agreement.

"When the members are wearing the national team jerseys, they are not representing themselves, they are representing the team," Lee said from Shanghai. "We just acted according to the legal right granted to us."

The commemorative Coke bottles are part of a marketing campaign that will feature other members of China's national team in later designs, Lee said.

By Audra Ang