Axl takes a pop at 'free' drink pledge by Dr Pepper

Singer long-awaited album leads to legal challenge

It has divided critics, been banned by the Chinese government and was launched in a whirlwind of chaos, acrimony and excess. Now Axl Rose's latest record has kept faith with another rock'n'roll tradition: it has spawned its first lawsuit.

The album Chinese Democracy, which Rose laboured over for more than 14 years before releasing it to his eager public on Sunday, is at the centre of an unlikely dispute between the famously-eccentric singer and the makers of Dr Pepper.

Rose is suing the soft drinks manufacturer for a public apology, and undisclosed damages, alleging that it failed to honour a bizarre promise to celebrate his record's release by giving a free serving of Dr Pepper to everyone in America.

Back in March, in a PR stunt it may now regret, the firm announced that it would hand out 20-ounce containers of its product to the entire nation, should Guns N' Roses finally keep to a deadline and complete their comeback record by the end of 2008. At the time, it looked like a safe bet: Chinese Democracy had been delayed so many times that its production had become a running joke in the music industry – unless, that is, you happened to work for the record label Universal, who for a decade-and-a-half had subsidised studio fees to the tune of $13m (£8.5m), or roughly $928,571 per song.

But then, the unthinkable happened: Rose managed to make good with his pledge, and finished the album in time for Christmas. Though sales figures are not available until Monday, analysts expect it to sell between 300,000 and half a million copies this week.

Dr Pepper, however, experienced trouble sticking to its pledge. The company's website was so swamped that it repeatedly crashed during the 24 hours where fans could download vouchers entitling them to free drinks.

Rose, whose carefully-cultivated misanthropic image has seen him fall out with every member of his band's original line-up, has now responded by firing a legal complaint to the Dr Pepper Snapple Group. "The redemption scheme your company clumsily implemented for this offer was an unmitigated disaster which defrauded consumers and, in the eyes of vocal fans, 'ruined' the day of Chinese Democracy's release," wrote his lawyer, Alan Gutman. "Now it is time to clean up the mess."

Rose has demanded a full-page apology in The New York Times, Los Angeles Times, USA Today and The Wall Street Journal, together with an expanded time period for punters to redeem the soda and "an appropriate payment to our clients for the unauthorised use and abuse of their publicity and intellectual property rights".

A spokesman for Dr Pepper declined to respond to the detail of Rose's complaint, or his subsequent demands, simply saying it was "a fun giveaway" that the company was perfectly entitled to launch, and took great steps to fulfill.

The singer, a former choirboy with a troubled childhood, has never pandered to other people's agendas. In recent years, the reclusive star has worked his way through eight guitarists (including the group's iconic original member Slash, who left in the mid-1990s, and Brian May of Queen) and, for a time, installed a chicken coop in his recording studio. He has declined all requests for interviews related to this week's launch, and is yet to appear in public since the record hit shelves. He also refused to change the album's title to appease China, which promptly banned it.

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