Chill Another ‘chella? Not So Fast, Judge Tells Coachella Music Fest.

“By the time we got to Woodstock, we were half-a-million strong.” Woodstock, music and lyrics by Joni Mitchell, recorded by Crosby, Stills, Nash and Young.

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The countdown has begun, with less than a year until Woodstock turns 50. Like Watergate a few years later, Woodstock occupies that rarefied world of one-word names that conjure up not just a place or an event, but a cultural watershed. Although Woodstock was not the first music festival of the Summer of Love era, it’s the one that dominates the collective memories of an entire generation, many of whom claim to have wallowed in the mud with the 500,000 souls who actually slogged their way to Yasgur’s farm to hear some of the leading rock, folk, soul, and blues acts of the day. Hendrix electrified with his searing “Star Spangled Banner,” Richie Havens strummed fervently for “Freedom,” Canned Heat celebrated the simple pleasure of “Going Up the Country,” while Country Joe and his Fish echoed the nation’s angst with their sardonic “Fixin’ to Die Rag” (“And it’s one, two, three, what are we fighting for?) All this and more was immortalized in an Oscar® winning documentary that cemented Woodstock as the defining music festival for generations of concert goers.

An attempt to rekindle the magic with a 25th Anniversary festival didn’t (and couldn’t) live up to the legend of the original Woodstock. But don’t think for a moment that the multi-day communal music festival is like peace signs, VW buses, fringed jackets, and bell bottoms, a relic of the past. Thanks to bands with nomadic tribal fan bases like the Grateful Dead and Phish, and thanks especially to entrepreneurs with bold visions and bolder marketing machines, the modern music festival is alive and well. This phenomenon has transformed the music business into a seemingly unending string of multi-day festivals from April through October.

And no festival defines and exemplifies the modern concert soundscape more than The Coachella Music and Arts Festival, better known by the single name Coachella. Since 1993, when Pearl Jam headlined, Coachella’s been held each Spring in California’s Coachella Valley. Like its Tennessee doppelganger, the (unaffiliated) Bonaroo, Coachella attracts hundreds of thousands of concert goers who feast on a smorgasbord of mega-stars, genre-leading acts, and rising artists presented virtually round the clock on multiple stages. Headliners besides Pearl Jam have included Radiohead, Beyonce, Lady Gaga, Guns N’ Roses, AC/DC, Madonna, Paul McCartney, and Prince, just to name a few.

With over 25 years of success, millions of attendees, scores of millions in revenues, and massive amounts of media coverage, you’d be forgiven if you’d think that the Coachella name had achieved a level of renown that would scare away copycats. But just as Watergate spawned a succession of follow-on “gates,”( like “Deflategate,” the New England Patriot’s most recent “are they cheaters?” kerfuffle), Coachella has inspired imitators who’ve tried to tack “chella” onto their names.

But today’s concert industry is big business involving big brands like Coachella. And to vigilant brand owners, imitation is not the sincerest form of flattery. So, when it learned that a Coachella Valley-based film-festival planned to call itself Filmchella, Coachella made it face the music; it sued for trademark infringement, arguing that the overlapping audiences for music and film would assume that the two “chellas” are related.

At first, the judge sided with Coachella and temporarily stopped Filmchella before the first projector began showing the first reel. That ruling—a preliminary injunction—was just the opening act. It didn’t actually decide the infringement issue, and so litigation ensued. Emboldened by its early success, Coachella asked the court to decide the case on summary judgment—arguing that the facts were so clear cut that the case could be decided without a trial.

This time, the judge modified his tune, concluding that while Coachella undeniably is well-known, a reasonable jury might find the “chella” portion weaker than the mark as a whole. The court also questioned whether a high budget music festival with celebrity performers is similar enough to an indy film-festival like Filmchella to confuse festival aficionados. Finally, the judge noted that although Coachella and Filmchella share the “chella” suffix, the two marks “have some differences, such as different font style and different beginning.” “In short,” the judge concluded in the coda of his opinion, “a reasonable jury could find that there is or that there is not likelihood of confusion from the totality of facts [and, therefore,] the jury is entitled to weigh these facts to determine whether a reasonably prudent consumer is likely to be confused.” Coachella Music Festival, LLC v. Simms, (U.S. District Court Judge R. Gary Klausner, Central District of Cal., Sept. 18. 2018). So, for Coachella and Filmchella, the litigation beat goes on and a courtroom showdown looms.

Nearly 50 years ago, Woodstock was billed as “3 Days of Peace and Music.” From today’s vantage point, with the music industry dominated by streaming services and mega-concerts, that slogan seems like a hippie dream. But then, again, the aftermath of Woodstock was mired in nearly as much litigation as the crowd at Max Yasgur’s farm was mired in mud during the rain-drenched second day. So, the founders of Coachella are carrying on the tradition of Woodstock in more ways than one. Cue the Woodstock film soundtrack: “It’s been a long time coming. Gonna be a long time gone.”

Quote of the Day: “I always think that when something is currently very trendy, it’s already very old.” Ennio Morricone, film score composer, The Good, The Bad, and the Ugly, Once Upon a Time in the West, and many others.

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Profiles In Trademarks: For One Slogan, There’s More To The Picture Than Meets The Eye

All the sailors with their sea-sick mamas, hear the sirens on the shore.” “For The Turnstiles,” music and lyrics by Neil Young

Many songs are laden with “hooks,” musical barbs that implant themselves indelibly in the cultural consciousness, like Eric Clapton’s searing guitar riff in “Layla.” But how many hooks are tied to a trademark?

I can think of one. Neil Young’s “Hey, Hey, My, My (“Into the Black”), Neil’s masterpiece from the late ‘70s, complete with crushing guitar chords, a raw and piercing solo on Neil’s feedback-laden “Old Black” Gibson Les Paul, and the defiant refrain “Rock and Roll will never die.” Summing it all up—so much so that it became the album’s title—is the song’s urgent justification for why “It’s better to burn out than to fade away”—“Rust Never Sleeps.”

Now, Neil Young’s lyrics, both before and after “Rust,” typically display a poet’s cryptic lyricism. Whether “searching for a heart of gold,” or “lying in a burned out basement with the full moon in [his] eyes,” Neil Young has always been a “dreamer of pictures.” So it may come as a surprise that “Rust Never Sleeps,” one of his most iconic metaphors, came not from his febrile imagination (legend has it that he wrote “Down By The River” and “Cowgirl In The Sand” in one flu-ish afternoon), but from the world of advertising.

That’s right, the iconoclastic Mr. Young— who’s mocked fellow songsters for selling their artistic souls to the devilish Mad Men (listen to “This Note’s For You” to hear his disdain for the likes of Dylan and even The Beatles who’ve rented their hits for TV ads)—this champion of creative purity, actually adopted one of his most iconic images from an unlikely corporate source—“Rust-Oleum,” the protective paints and coatings maker “whose  long-time slogan was, you guessed it, “Rust Never Sleeps”— three words that succinctly and convincingly conveyed the inexorable fate of any piece of metal whose owner was careless or neglectful enough to leave unprotected.

As products go, Rust-Oleum has a back story worthy of a Neil Young shanty (for a taste of Neil’s nautical bent, listen to “Captain Kennedy,” his mournful anti-war lament.) According to company lore, Rust-Oleum’s founder, sea-captain Robert Fergusson, “looking for ways to keep his ship in shape, “noticed that an accidental splash of fish oil had stopped the relentless spread of corrosion on his rusty metal deck, he immediately recognized it for what it was: A valuable solution.” https://www.rustoleum.com/about-rust-oleum/our-history

Although they worked in different genres and achieved different results, both Cap’n Ferguson and Neil Young experienced epiphanies—sparks of inspiration—that yielded something enduring, be it the protective properties of Ferguson’s oleaginous paint, or the ragged glory of Young’s song, which remains a staple of his concert set lists.

Today, with the advent of social media, snap chat, and e-commerce, some experts fear that taglines and slogans have begun to fade away from the advertising landscape. While many slogans retain their cache—sometimes over decades (think “Good to the Last Drop” and “You’re in good hands with Allstate”)—some observers believe taglines have become less relevant when so many other brand-messaging options exist. http://deniseleeyohn.com/taglines-are-deadlong-live-taglines/

Neil Young’s song, with its borrowed hook providing a furious crescendo that rails against atrophy and irrelevance, ensures that the one-time slogan “Rust Never Sleeps” will neither burn out nor fade away.

Quote of the Day: ” I’m climbin’ this ladder, My head’s in the clouds, I hope that it matters.” Borrowed Tune, Neil Young.

 

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Hardly Strictly Amazing: Warren Hellman and HSB

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Trial of the Century: Trademark Style

“So this is the Day of The Dead” from “We All Lose One Another” by Jason Collett
Trial of the Century! For most Americans, those words conjure two letters—O.J.  But for the past week or so, O.J. arguably has been upstaged by an unlikely figure—Dan Aykroyd.
That’s right, Dan Aykroyd–one of Saturday Night Live’s original “Not Ready For Prime Time Players” who won the fame as the staccato pitchman in SNL’s “Bass-O-Matic” infomercial parody, and who cemented his place in comedy’s pantheon with the original “Ghostbusters” and “Blues Brothers” films. That Dan Aykroyd has evolved into a trademark crusader for his real-life brand of vodka called “Crystal Head,” sold in a distinctive skull-shaped bottle:

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As with most things, success breeds imitators. For Crystal Head, imitation came in the form of rival KAH brand of tequila, also packaged in skull shaped bottles. Unlike Aykroyd’s brand, those skulls were opaque, brightly colored affairs:

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KAH founder Kim Brandi claimed that Mexico’s iconic Day of The Dead imagery had inspired her skull design. Aykroyd and his business partner Globefill, Inc., didn’t buy it. They sued for trademark infringement back in 2010. But in a 2013 trial, Brandi beat back Aykroyd’s infringement claim. She testified that she hadn’t even seen Aykroyd’s skull bottles. And the jury bought it.

Dan Aykroyd didn’t give up. He and his lawyers appealed and won a new trial. That new trial, which unfolded last week in a California courtroom, featured showmanship, skullduggery, and scandal worthy of one of Aykroyd’s big-budget Hollywood movies. Aykroyd cast himself in the role of star witness for the prosecution. Wielding a tape measure, Aykroyd systematically compared the features, angles, and dimensions of his skull bottle to Brandi’s. He also testified that confusion in the marketplace was threatening his brand. Claiming to have found a broken glass inside a KAH bottle, Aykroyd told the jury: “I thought, even more reason for me to be concerned about source. What if someone got hurt? And for someone to think we have a product on the market that’s inferior to our vodka, that’s unacceptable.” Aykroyd also testified that KAH tequila “obviously” was a confusingly similar copycat: “I really couldn’t count about how many people who have come and asked us about our new tequila in the skull bottle. We had to say, ‘It’s not ours.’”

Brandi, for her part, argued that Aykroyd shouldn’t be able to block all skull shaped liquor bottles, especially ones like Brandi’s, whose bright colors evoked iconic Mexican imagery. And Brandi stuck to her story, insisting that she hadn’t seen Aykroyd’s skull bottles when decided on the Day of The Dead theme for her tequila bottles. She brushed-aside the similarities Aykroyd had pointed out as “coincidence.”

That’s when the real drama happened. In a finale worth of Perry Mason, Aykroyd’s legal team unveiled a bombshell—the guy Brandi hired to design her bottles. This surprise witness testified that Brandi handed him one of Aykroyd’s skull bottles and told him to make a plaster cast of it so that she could model her design on Aykroyd’s distinctive skull container.
Armed with this testimony, Aykroyd’s lawyer told the jury that Brandi had lied. Four hours later, the jury returned its verdict—guilty as charged.

So now, seven years after the story began, Dan Aykroyd and his legal team are close to achieving their perfect ending. All that remains is for the Judge to decide the remedy. That phase of the case is still to come. For now, Aykroyd has the satisfaction of knowing that, at least for now, justice delayed is not justice denied.

The name of the case is Globefill Inc. v. Elements Spirits Inc., 2:10-cv-02034, U.S. District Court for the Central District of California.

Quote of the day: “Alas, poor Yorick! I knew him, Horatio, a fellow of infinite jest, of most excellent fancy. He hath bore me on his back a thousand times, and now how abhorr’d in my imagination it is! My gorge rises at it.” Hamlet by W. Shakespeare

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Free Samples? Or Risky Riffs?

  “I need a unit to sample and hold. But not the angry one. A new design.” Sample and Hold, music and lyrics by Neil Young Digital sampling has become a staple of the recording ind…

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Free Samples? Or Risky Riffs?

 

“I need a unit to sample and hold. But not the angry one. A new design.” Sample and Hold, music and lyrics by Neil Young

free sampleDigital sampling has become a staple of the recording industry. What’s sampling? It’s taking a snippet from one recording and splicing it into a new one. Typically, the sample is just a few bars, even a few notes. And it’s likewise typical for the producers and artists to digitally tweak those few bars or notes to alter their pitch or key and adding additional embellishments. As often or not, the listener is unaware that the “new” recording includes a “re-purposed” sample.

But is it kosher to lift a fragment from one copyrighted recording and implant into a new one?  That question has produced judicial sparring that rivals the most thorny of Talmudic conundrums.

Until last week, only one U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals, the Sixth Circuit, whose territory includes Nashville, aka “Music City,” had weighed in on this issue. It did so with Draconian precision, laying down a bright-line test. The case was Bridgeport Music Inc,. v. Dimension Films. The sample in question consisted of a chunk of guitar funk plucked from a recording of “Get Off Your Ass and Jam” by George Clinton. Specifically, a two-second sample from a four-second guitar solo was copied, the pitch was lowered, and the copied piece was looped and extended to 16 beats. Neither the brevity of the sample nor the transformation it underwent was enough to avoid a finding of copyright infringement.In the Sixth Circuits view: “[a] sound recording owner [and only a sound recording owner] has the exclusive right to ‘sample’ his own recording.”  And while a “de minimis” exception applies to other types of works (that, is, you likely can copy a phrase or two from a 400 page book without infringing the author’s copyright), the Sixth Circuit held that sound recordings are different. Samplers hoping to invoke the de minimis exception need not apply. In other words, if you want to sample, get a license and pay the piper.

But doesn’t that rule stifle creativity, which is what copyright law’s supposed to encourage? Not according to the Sixth Circuit. Leaning towards protecting the commercial interests of record labels and artists, the Court rejected a free-ride philosophy in favor of a market-driven approach. The Court identified two main reasons why musicians sample–either the sample adds value to a new recording because listeners recognize its original source, or it adds value by saving the cost or recording the same riff a second time. In either case, the sampler gets something of value, and should be willing to pay for it. Let the market decide the price.

But just last week, the Ninth Circuit Federal Court of Appeals, which includes L.A. within its jurisdiction, took the Sixth Circuit and its bright line approach to task. That case, VMS Salsous v. Ciccone (aka Madonna) also involved mining a prior recording for a musical sliver and then sliding it into a new track. In this case, the sliver was a .23 second “horn hit”–four trumpet notes forming a single chord, that originally appeared in the mega-hit dance track Ooh, I Love It (Love Break), recorded by producer Shep Pettibone in the early 1980s. In 1990, working with Madonna, Pettibone reached back to Love Breaks to salvage that same horn hit, doctoring it up in the process, transposing it to a new key, truncating it, and even adding other sounds to the chord itself.

If Pettibone and Madonna had worked this musical alchemy in Nashville and had been sued for copyright infringement there,  they would have been found guilty under the Sixth Circuit’s Bridgeport decision.  The Ninth Circuit, however, concluded that its sister court’s logic was badly flawed and that its refusal to apply the de minimis exception was dead wrong. The panel of three West Coast judges saw no basis in the Copyright Law or its legislative history to treat sound recordings any different from other works, such as books. That’s good news for recording artists who happen to be sued in L.A. or other places within the Ninth Circuit. But the Ninth Circuit’s ruling doesn’t change the Sixth Circuit’s decision, and it leaves artists in New York, Austin, Chicago, St.Louis, and other music towns on uncertain ground.

Such a  spat between two Courts of Appeal, however, may be the overture for the Supreme Court to step in and call the tune on digital sampling. Should music sampling be free, as the Ninth Circuit found? Or should producers have to pay to play, as the Sixth Circuit concluded? The answer may not be blowin’ in the wind, but its not exactly clear either. In other words, don’t be surprised if the Supremes refuse to decide whether digital samplers must “stop in the name of law” and leave the issue for Congress to sort out. And that could prove to be a “long and winding road.”

QUOTE OF THE DAY:  “People go back to the stuff that doesn’t cost a lot of money and the stuff that you don’t have to hand money to over and over again. Stuff that you get for free, stuff that your older brother gives you, stuff that you can get out of the local library.” Frank Black aka Black Francis.

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MONKEY SEA, MONKEY SUE?

Cheer up sleepy Jean, oh what can it mean for a daydream believer?” Daydream Believer, words and music by John Stewart, originally recorded and performed by The Monkees.

The New York Times Magazine recently featured a tale ripped from the comic books of my youth. The story involved mystery, intrigue, villainy, betrayal, desperate living, a fortune won and lost. And what rip-roaring saga would be complete without a trademark dispute?

At the center of this story are “Sea Monkeys,” the amazing critters advertised in the pages of Batman, Superman, and Archie comics. If you’re not of a certain age and don’t know what I’m talking about, here is a vintage ad for the “Monkeys of the Sea:”

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Generations of kids flirted with the notion of ordering Sea Monkeys. But that was before e-commerce, when it actually took effort to clip the coupon, address an envelope, and go to the Post Office for postage.  It was easier to just turn the page.

The few of us who actually grubbed up the $1.25 purchase price were sorely disappointed.  You see, “Sea Monkeys” is a misnomer. While they come from ocean waters, (and still do today) there’s no sapien at all in these critters. They’re just freeze-dried brine shrimp. Like Folger’s Crystals, they can be re-animated—brought to life—merely by adding water.  Some managed to keep their Monkey colonies alive for weeks, month, or even years. But most saw them die within days, the novelty lasting only hours before boredom and neglect set in.

Sea Monkeys are the brainchild of the late Harold von Braunhut, who died in 2003. Dubbed a “Mad Genius” in a 2011 article by Evan Hughes, Von Braunhut’s inventive genius did not end with Sea Monkeys. He’s also the guy behind X-Ray Specs, another comic book staple that promised to give the wearer the power to see through buildings, clothing—even their own skin.  Who wouldn’t want a pair?

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Say what you will about the merits of Mr. von B’s technical acumen, he knew his audience—gullible kids with time on their hands, fertile imaginations, and spare change to spare. He amassed quite an empire.

And that’s where trademarks come in. When he died, his widow struck a deal with a toy company with a name—Big Time Toys—that sounded more like a cartoon enterprise (think Wiley Coyote’s ACME)  than a real-world business.  According to a lawsuit filed by the widow von B, she merely licensed Big Time to distribute Sea Monkeys.

The Big Time bigwigs see things differently. They claim that the money they’ve paid over the years was part of an installment plan to buy the Sea Monkeys trademark outright. Now, they claim, they rule the Sea Monkey jungle, leaving Mr. von   Braunhut’s widow out in the cold—literally.  Like Big and Little Edie Beale,  (Jackie Kennedy Onassis’s kin  who lived in squalor in their Long Island mansion),  Mrs. von B orchestrates her Big Time  trademark  battle while huddled up in a crumbling Maryland estate on the shores of the Potomac river, with only a wood fire for heat.  Like a good comic book plotline, this one has been going on for years.  And there’s more than spare change at stake.  One report estimates Big Time’s annual revenues from Sea Monkeys at over $3 million. And of course, there’s the classic theme of good versus evil, David versus Goliath, with the Sea Monkeys trademark as the widow von B’s slingshot.  But like all good things, Sea Monkeys magic is not eternal. Now, they come from China. And old time fans complain that the Chinese variety don’t have the same spunk as the original formula.  Hey, there’s a potential new slogan for the 2016 Presidential campaign—Make Sea Monkeys Great Again.

QUOTE OF THE DAY: “Monkeys are superior to [humans] in this: when a monkey looks into a mirror, he sees a monkey.”  Malcolm de Chazal

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