Showing posts with label 1980's. Show all posts
Showing posts with label 1980's. Show all posts

Thursday, December 12, 2013

Rock Showdown: Queensrÿche Faces Trial Over Trademark Ownership

Queensrÿche with Original Lead Singer Geoff Tate
It appears that hard rock and 1980's "hair bands" are a perennially fertile source of trademark litigation, as well as bar brawls and heady interpersonal drama.

Last year, we reported on the ugly trademark dispute between Ed Kowalczyk and his former band Live as they disputed whether it was appropriate for Ed to continue to bill himself as "Ed Kowalczyk of Live." (According to a recent Rolling Stone interview, that case has been settled).

Now, the original members of progressive heavy metal band Queensrÿche are embroiled in a hotly-contested litigation that is preparing for an imminent trial in a Washington State Court. The band's intellectual property is owned by Tri-Ryche Corporation, which is the company owned by the band's members.

(One legal oddity of this case is that it is an intra-corporate dispute between band members, which is a purely state law matter, whereas the vast majority of trademark cases invoke exclusively federal jurisdiction).

Last year, Rolling Stone reported that fans--and lead singer Geoff Tate himself--were stunned to learn that Queensrÿche had fired its lead singer after nearly thirty years with the band.

For those unfamiliar with Queensrÿche's catalog, it includes such songs as Silent Lucidity and full-length narrative-driven albums Rage for Order and Operation: Mindcrime.

After the 2012 split, two bands were simultaneously using the name and Queensrÿche brand.  They are each identified by their frontman, with one version led by new singer Todd La Torre, with original members Rockenfield, Wilton and Jackson and guitarist Lundgren (who joined in 2009) and the other led by original singer Geoff Tate, with former guitarist Gray, Randy Gane and Robert Sarzo and Simon Wright.

"Queensrÿche" With Lead Singer Todd La Torre
The litigation centers around who should own the rights to control the Queensrÿche brand and related trademarks after an alleged "assault" by Tate on the other band members occurred in Sao Paolo, Brazil early last year.  

The band's core legal argument is that Tate's alleged assault justified his firing as a form 'corporate action' to address his breach of duty to the other members of the entity.
Tate's court papers allege that "[t]he cut-and-thrust of Defendants' motion is that the alleged 'assault' in Sao Paulo, Brazil justifies all of their 'corporate' action under the Business Judgment Rule and leaves Geoff Tate with no defense."
First, Tate argues that there is a genuine issue of material fact demanding a trial regarding what happened in Brazil. Second, Tate substantively disputes the facts and circumstances surrounding the incident in Brazil and does not 'admit' he 'assaulted' anyone.
In his Declaration in Support of the Tates' Motion for a Preliminary Injunction, Geoff Tate swears that Mr. Rockenfield taunted him, saying, 'I fired your wife, I fired your daughter and your son-in-law, and you're next.' Angry, Geoff Tate admits that he 'went after' Mr. Rockenfield, but never touched him."
The Court apparently agreed that a trial was necessary to sort out the mess. According to music blog Blabbermouth, the trial will start in January 2014.

Sounds like a trademark trial worth following.  Stay tuned.

Friday, May 10, 2013

Kansas Coffee Shop Targeted By 1980's Hair Band's Trademark Lawyers

1980's Hair Band Twisted Sister in Concert / Wikimedia Commons
Sandi Russell, along with her sister, Nancy Hansen, are two sisters operating a small coffee shop in Mission, Kansas.  Their coffee shop's name is "Twisted Sisters," and their domain name is

Russell recently reported that she received a formal cease and desist letter telling them to change the name because it has been trademarked by the 1980's hair band Twisted Sister which owns and operates

According to the letter, the Twisted Sister musical group coined the name “TWISTED SISTER” in 1973, and “the
juxtaposition of those two words never appeared prior to the creation and adoption of the mark by the band.”

Continuously since then, the band has had extensive media publicity and exposure of its mark, having released at least 12 full albums and 4 DVDs since 1973 under the TWISTED SISTER mark, which have been distributed and
 sold throughout the United States and worldwide. 

Consequently, according to its lawyers, the band’s trademark is well-established and legally deemed "famous."

It is true that Twisted Sister has a federally registered and incontestable federal trademark (1,098,366) issued in 1978, but that trademark only covers: "ENTERTAINMENT SERVICES RENDERED BY A VOCAL AND INSTRUMENTAL GROUP."

The letter notes that the band has been successful in requiring that the Twisted Sister Bakery in Chicago and Twisted Sister Pizza in Massachusetts change their names.

Not mentioned in the letter is that third parties have apparently received numerous approved trademarks for marks using "TWISTED SISTER" (and variants), such as for Twisted Sisters Wine (3,443,617), Twisted Sisters clothing boutique (3,216,315), Twisted Sisters Our Business Is Dyeing colored yarns (3,027,439) and Twisted Sista for hair care products (3,947,150).  All of those are live trademarks that appear to have nothing to do with the band.

Therefore, to establish even a prima facie case of trademark infringement, the lawyers would need to plead that the coffee shop's continued use of the “Twisted Sisters” name in connection with a small coffee shop is likely to lead to consumer confusion as to endorsement, sponsorship or affiliation with the 1980's band.  

This claim would likely be an uphill battle from an evidentiary standpoint, and would probably require an expensive survey expert. One suspects that instances of actual confusion among consumers would be difficult to locate.

However, assuming the trademark is indeed “famous” and worthy of legal protection under the Federal Trademark Dilution Act, the band need only prove that the use of the unauthorized name is likely to dilute, either through tarnishment or blurring, the distinctive nature and fame of the band’s mark.  In this context, this claim may be easier to plead even in the absence of confusion, as there is no doubt that the Twisted Sisters Coffee Shop likely "calls to mind" the 80's band, potentially blurring its distinctive quality.

Faced with the band’s demand that it change its name, the coffee shop’s owners reportedly intend to do just that.  As of today, the coffee shop's website is no longer operational.