Ozzy beer by The Brewer's Art

Ozzy, the Belgian-style strong pale ale that was made by the Baltimore-based company The Brewer's Art. (Chris Kaltenbach, Baltimore Sun photo / March 26, 2014)

Ozzy Osbourne has endorsed soda, a cellphone and even imitation butter spread. But one product the Prince of Darkness apparently does not approve of is Ozzy, the Belgian-style strong pale ale made by the Baltimore-based company The Brewer's Art.

The local brewery received a cease-and-desist letter from representatives of Osbourne, the hard-rock-forefather-turned-reality-TV-star, Brewer's Art co-owner Tom Creegan confirmed.

The canned version of the beer has a logo depicting a clenched fist with the letters O-Z-Z-Y spelled on the fingers, similar to the Black Sabbath singer's own left hand. Bat imagery also appears on the can, a likely reference to one of Osbourne's most infamous on-stage stunts.

Creegan declined to comment further, on his attorney's recommendation. Marcee Rondan, a publicist for Osbourne, had no comment.

In February 2005, a Baltimore Sun article reported that Creegan said the beer was named after the singer.

Liquor stores in Baltimore said they are still selling the beer, and six-packs were available Thursday afternoon at Brewer's Art.

Gordon McNamara, manager of the Pinehurst Wine Shoppe in North Baltimore, said he tripled his order of the beer recently because he had heard about the letter. He's gotten several calls about it from customers who heard about the controversy, and he expects to see a bit of a rush on the ale this weekend.

"I think it's a good beer — people really enjoy it," he said. "These celebrities make tons of money, how is it going to hurt them? These are local guys doing a really good thing."

But celebrities have the right to decide how their names and images are used commercially, said Cynthia Blake Sanders, an intellectual property lawyer who teaches entertainment and sports law at the University of Maryland Carey School of Law. That's especially true of someone like Osbourne, whose reputation is built not on name alone, but on the persona he has established over the years.

"You can't make the commercial use of a person's name on any product, but particularly not [with] people who have a value on their persona," said Sanders, who does not represent either side in the dispute.

"If they called it Ozzy and it wasn't so clearly a sort of heavy-metal styling, somebody might connect it with a different Ozzy," she said. "But when they've used both his tattoo, in addition to his hands" and the bat imagery, "that's really using a great deal of his persona."

Especially in the Internet age, when it's difficult for even small, regional businesses to fly under the radar, such suits are not uncommon. Earlier this year, rapper Kanye West objected to the name "Coinye" for a bitcoin-like currency (the coin's developers seem to have abandoned the project). And in 2013, lawyers for comedian Bill Cosby sent a cease-and-desist order to a Santa Monica man who founded the site cosbysweaters.com; the site has since changed its name, and now features a photo of Cosby with devil horns and ears added.

Even Ben & Jerry's ice cream, when it introduced Cherry Garcia in 1987, briefly ran afoul of its namesake, Grateful Dead guitarist Jerry Garcia. The dispute escalated, according to Brad Edmondson's "Ice Cream Social: The Struggle for the Soul of Ben & Jerry's," until an agreement was reached that royalties from Cherry Garcia would go to a foundation the band had established.

Celebrities tend to guard their images and reputations zealously, Sanders said, and don't always like it when someone, regardless of intent, piggybacks off of them without asking.

"That's a common perception, that they like all the attention," she said. "But the thing is, if they derive their incomes from the investment they've made in their name and their persona, they're entitled to be paid for it."

But why put a celebrity's name on a brew at all? Sanders believes it's all part of the effort to carve out a niche in a crowded marketplace.

"When it's a product and you're going to lay down 10 bucks or 12 bucks for a six-pack of cans, you might walk past the Natty Boh and spoil yourself a little bit because you like Ozzy," she said. "They were probably looking for something edgy."

chris.kaltenbach@baltsun.com