McDonald's ends 'McFight' with collegiate charity concert promoter

After months of legal wrangling and thousands of McDonald's customers threatening to boycott in her honor, college-age charity concert promoter Lauren McClusky has reached a settlement with the fast food giant, agreeing to trade in the name of her charity show, "McFest," for $40,000.

WalletPop first reported about McClusky's legal adventures with McDonald's trademark lawyers earlier this year. The saga began in January 2009, according to McClusky (pictured), but no other news outlet had picked up on it by the time we ran our story. On Monday morning, WalletPop was first to learn that McClusky has settled with the fast food chain and her show -- now renamed "Nelarusky" (a moniker she devised by scrambling the letters of her first and last name) -- will go on in cooperation with the Lollapalooza festival. Not only that but McDonald's has agreed to act as the main sponsor for this and next year's charity shows.

All in all, not bad for a young woman who began the new year with more than $5,000 in legal bills, because of McDonald's efforts to prevent her from copyrighting the name "McFest." It was money she had hoped to donate to Special Olympics, the charity her concert series supports.

Readers who followed the story on WalletPop might recall that McDonald's claims the rights to a host of names beginning with Mc, including McJob, McPen, McBuddy, McShades, McRuler and McLight. It even claims the prefix "Mc" itself. So it mattered not to McDonald's that McClusky named her concert "McFest" just because, well, she had a "Mc" in her last name. But it did matter to countless readers, who turned the story into a public relations debacle for the burger giant.

And once news of McClusky's woes hit the Internet (she had raised $40,000 for Special Olympics over the last three years), the sentiments of a fast food nation shifted strongly to her side, even if trademark law did not. Supportive emails and comments poured in from all over the world; there was even a Facebook page dedicated to the cause, a response McClusky hardly expected.

Reached by WalletPop prior to the announcement of the settlement, McClusky said she was "thrilled" the ordeal was over and that she could move ahead with the August show, this time with McDonald's blessing.

A settlement might have been reached earlier had McClusky not been out of the country for the first half of 2010. McClusky was sailing the globe as part of the Semester at Sea educational program. Needless to say, the Boston University student was hard to reach by email, and cell phone communication was next to impossible.

It wasn't until McClusky returned in May that she actually met with McDonald's representatives, which included Jack Daly, the executive vice president of corporate communications, and Jennifer O'Malley, McDonald's senior counsel.

By anyone's reckoning, the settlement amount is extremely modest compared to what McClusky could have asked for, especially with public opinion so firmly in her favor. But as she put it, her concern was never money. "Once we sat down to talk, the people from McDonald's and I realized we had a lot of the same concerns as far as helping kids were concerned," McClusky said.

Under the settlement terms, the $40,000 will guarantee what McClusky calls a "premier sponsorship" of Nelarusky by McDonald's that lasts two years, and also offsets all legal fees her event absorbed from the ordeal. In addition, a portion of the funds will help McClusky rebrand her event under its new name.

If McClusky misses calling her concert "McFest," it wasn't apparent in a prepared statement she released Monday, in which she thanked McDonald's representatives for "being so helpful in furthering my concert activities--in a way I could've never done on my own."

And so McClusky (the daughter of Chicago independent music promoter Jeff McClusky) moves on to selling tickets for her event, which will feature Lollapalooza act the Constellations, as well as Denver-based band Churchill, McFest veterans Fair Herald, and special guests to be announced in the next two weeks. The concert will take place at Chicago's legendary rock club Metro, which has hosted acts such as Coldplay, Smashing Pumpkins and past McFest concerts, too.

The McFest name may be gone, but this year's concert could be the biggest ever for McClusky and her team, thanks to the attention her story received, the McDonald's sponsorship and the seal of approval from Lollapalooza organizers. Heady stuff for a kid who hasn't yet graduated college ... though she doesn't plan on letting it go to her McHead.

The young entrepreneur said she's too busy working out the details of Nelarusky 4 (picking up name-wise where McFest 3 left off) to worry about much else. "The most support anyone can show us is by coming to our great event," she said. (McClusky hopes to raise $25,000 this year.)

In fact, she sounds like any other music lover who's just scored backstage passes to the show of her dreams: "I can't wait for the concert. I'm really excited."
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