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.