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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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Beer TM Today, Gone Tommorow: IPA Spat Goes Flat

“The room was humming harder, As the ceiling flew away, When we called out for another drink, The waiter brought a tray.” A Whiter Shade of Pale by Keith Reid, Gary Brooker (recorded by Procol Harum)

Surprise turned to Schadenfreude last week in trademark land when micro-brewer Lagunitas sued micro-legend Sierra Nevada for trademark infringement. The mark at issue? IPA–a common acronym for the style of beer called “India Pale Ale.” For years, Lagunitas’s IPA packages featured the letters IPA in large, highly stylized script. And Lagunitas saw red when Sierra Nevada changed the packages for its IPA to put those letters front and center:

beer

Scores of brewers offer up their takes on this hoppy variety of pale ale. And many call it “IPA.” So the odds that any one company could snag “IPA” as a trademark would seem long at best–not the makings of a good bar bet. But those long odds did not deter Lagunitas. In its lawsuit, the company focused on style, not substance. According to Lagunitas’s complaint in Federal court, the letters IPA weren’t the issue. Sierra Nevada’s offense was copying the large-letter format and style of Lagunitas’s IPA logo.

But in this era where microbreweries are giving the beer establishment a run for its money and craft beer isn’t just for hipsters anymore, the nuances of trademark law sometimes can get lost on the blogosphere. Rather than stirring up sympathy, the lawsuit sparked a brew-haha of criticism, with Twitter and other social media sites overflowing with outrage over the idea that one brewer could monopolize IPA. So even though that wasn’t Lagunitas’s aim, the brewer responded to the backlash with contrition reminiscent of a morning-after dose of reality. In a Twitter post, owner Tony Magee wrote: “Today, I was seriously schooled . . . Tomorrow morning we’ll drop the infringement suit.[and] get back to answering other questions.”

So Lagunitaas learned a valuable lesson. When it comes to IP rights for IPA, size apparently doesn’t matter.

QUOTE OF THE DAY: “I am a firm believer in the people. If given the truth, they can be depended upon to meet any national crisis. The great point is to bring them the real facts, and beer.” Abraham Lincoln

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Legal Eagle or Fairly Mocked Bird? Don Henley Wings Into Court

“He’s a tortured artist. Used to be in the Eagles. Now he whines. Like a wounded beagle. Poet of despair! Pumped up with hot air!’ Don Henley Must Die, by Mojo Nixon

Ask a serious music fan about Eagles and their singer Don Henley, and you’re likely to hear sentiments not so different from Mojo Nixon’s satiric verses in “Don Henley Must Die.” Sure, Mr. Henley has been outspoken in support of artists’ rights, testifying before Congress on a symphony of issues relating to recording industry practices. And his positions on environmental issues, reflected in his stewardship of the Waldon Woods Project, have been pristine.
So why do music fans like me–whose tastes swing between the Eagle’s forerunners and many of the band’s progeny–cringe at the thought of Don Henley–the man and his music? Why, when we hear him crooning on “The Boys of Summer,” do we immediately pray for an early frost; for the top to go up and wipers turned on in old Don’s California idyll? Could it be that the maitre d’ at the Hotel California, the head honcho in that band of Desperadoes, has seen one too many Tequila Sunrises and simply lost his sense of humor?
Judging from Mr. Henley’s latest legal foray, it does not take a 12-part podcast from NPR to conclude that when it comes to his “Right of Publicity” Don Henley has checked his funnybone at the courthouse door.
Here’s the story. For years, menswear companies from J. Crew to Joe A. Bank have sold long-sleeved, cotton shirts with crew collars and three or four button fronts. These casual shirts are called Henleys–taking their name from the rarefied world of rowing and regattas on the Thames near Oxford. And for decades, if not centuries, “to don” has meant the act of pulling on a uniform–such as a jersey and, yes, a Henley tee. So Englishmen may have been donning Henleys since Henry VIII serenaded Ann Boleyn with “Welcome to the Hotel Tower of London, such a lonely place.”
Henry, being king of court, could dispense bad tunes and swift justice however he wished when spurned by a wife or rival.
Don Henley, however, must resort to the U.S. courts to protect his name. And that’s what he did when he took offense at an advertisement by U.S. clothier Duluth Trading, a company known for edgy, sometimes cheeky ads for traditional clothing geared to tradesman and outdoor enthusiasts featuring Giant Angry Beavers, Groping Grizzlies, and Unruly Bushes. One ad, for Duluth’s “Long-Tail Tee,” even proposes a “Cure for Plumbers’ Butt.” Cheeky indeed.
But when, in advertising its long-sleeve button pullover shirt, Duluth urged customers to “don a Henley, take it easy,” the Eagles singer/drummer didn’t appreciate the humor. Instead of laughing with Duluth he sued Duluth–in California, where else? Henley alleges in his complaint that Duluth’s ad for Henley shirts deliberately invokes Mr. Henley’s name and his association with the Eagles, and are aimed at “exploiting the celebrity of Mr. Henley and the Eagles’ hit record.” Mr. Henley’s complaint also alleges that consumers, not Henley, are the real victims: “Large numbers of consumers . . . will unquestionably believe that Mr. Henley is associated with and/or has endorsed {Duluth]and its products . . .”
Duluth, for its part, seems to be taking things in stride, as its whimsical ads might suggest. “The advertisement is obviously a joke (something we presume not even Mr. Henley disputes),” Duluth wrote in asking the court to toss Henley’s suit. “It is self-evident that the use that was made of Mr. Henley’s name was a joke intended to highlight the coincidence that [he] shares his last name with a ubiquitous casual shirt and that his first name means ‘to wear.'”
So we have Duluth’s claims of Freedom of Speech and Expression lined up against Mr. Henley’s right to protect his name and image from being used to confuse or deceive consumers and his further right to control who may or may not exploit his name for commercial gain. There’s just enough traction on both sides that the court may have less than a peaceful, easy feeling in deciding who’s right. The outcome likely will turn on whether the court finds Duluth’s ad “transformative”–that is, did the parodist or satirist infuse the work with enough creativity and original expression to merit the First Amendment’s protection. In other words, will the judge or jury get the joke, and think the joke is clever enough to side with Duluth? Or will they find that the joke is just a tepid excuse for identity theft. Cases like this usually settle, so we won’t likely know how and where the California court would draw the line. But we can safely say, whatever the outcome, that Duluth Trading is a far cry from all those “Desperadoes” Henley and his compadres glorified through their music. Perhaps the irony is lost on Henley; the man who entreated notorious thieves and killers Frank and Jesse James to “keep on riding, riding, riding,” has a short fuse when it comes to Duluth using a clever pun to sell Henley tees. But after living in the fast lane so long, Henley apparently know only one way to react when provoked–take it to the limit–one more time.

UPDATE: On January 22, the Judge denied Duluth’s request to throw the case out based on its so-called obviously-a-joke-defense. In a terse ruling, the Judge wrote: “Even assuming for the sake of argument that the transformative use test of Comedy III Prods., Inc. v. Gary Saderup, Inc., 25 Cal. 4th 387 (2001) applies, Defendant has not established that its use of Plaintiff’s name – and the name of one of his band’s most famous songs – in its advertisement was sufficiently transformative on its face that a motion to dismiss should be granted.” Tranlation from legalese to plain-speak: Just because “Take it easy-don a henly” may be funny, doesn’t automatically mean Duluth is off the hook. To paraphraase “Take It Easy,” the Court did what Duluth didn’t want it to do: it said “maybe.”

QUOTE OF THE DAY: “It is the ability to take a joke, not make one, that proves you have a sense of humor.”
Max Eastman

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Hopper to Hopper: No Easy ®ide

Hopper

“Go make it happen.  Take the world in a love embrace.”  “Born To Be Wild” by Steppenwolf

Flipping through Comcast’s program guide last week, I came across a listing I could not resist.  “Easy Rider, ” the 1969 paean to motorcycles, pot, free love, and all the other accoutrements of the Woodstock era.  I was thirteen when the film came out, too young to see it in the theater, and definitely too young to join the tens of millions of slightly older members of my generation who claim to have been among the half a million strong who descended on Yasgur’s Farm that August.  And though I am sure I managed to catch a screening of “Easy Rider” at some point in my film-going career, most likely at a repertory house like DC’s long departed Circle, Key, or Biograph theaters, my relentless march towards the big 6-0 made it hard to remember whether I’d actually seen this counterculture landmark or was just hallucinating.  So, even though the hour was late, and the lure of “Frasier” reruns was nearly gravitational, I pressed OK on my remote and headed out on the highway with Peter Fonda, Dennis Hopper, and Jack Nicholson; it was a great ride for about fifteen minutes, as Fonda and Hopper cavorted with a tie-dyed,  braided clan of commune-dwellers, all  drawn to Fonda’s  character, especially the women-folk.  But as a troupe of itinerant actors begged to sing for their supper, my attention span sputtered, my craving for the two Doctors Crane too great. So I flipped back to the Hallmark Channel where I drifted off to the Kelsey Grammer’s mellifluous Brahmin accent. 

But Easy Rider is hard to forget, especially with the film’s director, the late Dennis Hopper, making today’s trademark news.  Hopper’s estate has applied to register HOPPER as a trademark for clothing and motorcycle related items such as helmets and goggles.  These articles no doubt would appeal to “born-to-be-wild-again” riders and who’ve traded their youthful hobbies for Harleys®. But they don’t appeal to DISH NETWORK, which claims that the estate’s HOPPER mark would create a likelihood of confusion with DISH’s ad-skipping DVR product which it calls THE HOPPER.  It remains to be seen whether consumers or the trademark office will agree with DISH’s beef or conclude that the owner of this HOPPER mark for DVRs jumped the gun.  But the late Mr. Hopper, whose career-defining roles spanned everything from Rebel Without A Cause to Blue Velvet, would no doubt take this turn of events with his trademark mix of enraged bemusement.   Paraphrasing one of his lines from Apocalypse Now, Mr. Hopper might say “The DISH TV man is clear in his mind, but his soul is mad.”

QUOTE OF THE DAY:  “Art at its most significant is a Distant Early Warning System that can always  be relied on to tell the old culture what is beginning to happen to it.”  Marchall McLuhan

 

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Onward Trademark Soldiers? Newsboys Cannot Stop the Rap Music

“Lately I’ve been thinking / What would the world do without the news / You wouldn’t know when wars were started / Or when they ended, win or lose.” Newspapers by Stan Ridgway

Yesterday’s IP blogosphere brought news of another battle of the bands involving trademark rights. Christian rockers the Newsboys did not turn the other cheek when they discovered a rap duo performing as New Boyz. They sued. And they lost. Bigtime. Oh, the Newsboys got their day in court all right, but it lasted just about one day, with the judge tossing the complaint as legally deficient. The Newsboys claimed that the rappers’ name New Boyz would confuse and confound the music buying audience. They railed that the New Boyz songs were sexually charged. They pointed to their own 1991 album title “Boys will be Boyz” as evidence that the groups’ names were too close for comfort. And the band that had honed its reputation in the realm of Christian Rock insisted that their music was not just for the religious set; they claimed “cross-over” appeal to the same “demographic” that listens to and downloads New Boyz allegedly salacious songs.

But the secular audience who mattered–the judge–was not buying it. He granted the New Boyz’s motion to dismiss the trademark infringement charges as implausible, concluding that the Newsboys’ “factual allegations of customer confusion do not include any factual allegations of confusion about the source of each band’s marketed music.” Influencing the court’s ruling was the focus of the Newsboys’ federal trademark registration–“live musical performances of a religious nature.” The two groups market their music to two distinctly different crowds, making the Newsboys claims of confusion and damage to reputation apocryphal, according to the court. In short, the judge hewed to the ancient adage “live and let live,” and stopped the trademark fight on a TKO–failure to plead enough facts to get to round 2.

This case joins a line of music themed trademark cases allowing similar names to coexist when used for different genres. Perhaps the granddaddy of all is Sunenblick v. MCA Records, Inc., 895 F. Supp. 616 (S.D.N.Y. 1995), aff’d, 101 F.3d 684 (2d Cir. 1996): where the jazz record label Uptown Records lost its trademark battle against popular rap record label Uptown, with the court concluding that the urban music geography was big enough for two Uptowns.

And of course, we only have to scan the bins of the few remaining brick and mortar record stores to see that bands with similar names often coexist without sparking nasty trademark battles. Pop-rocker Bryan Adams rubs shoulders with Alt. Country Rocker Ryan Adams, while The Who and The Guess Who have played in peace for nearly six decades.

So, while the ending of the Newsboys’ story may seem abrupt, the result, at least for now, seems to be in tune with history. If there’s a moral to the story, it may be this, it’s one thing for a band to claim that its music has crossover appeal, it’s another thing to prove it.

QUOTE OF THE DAY: “In the case of news, we should always wait for the sacrament of confirmation.” Voltaire

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Annals of Trademarks: Super 8 Superates?

“Don’t Want to Die in a Super Eight.” “Super 8” by Jason Isbell

Like me, you’ve probably driven by hundreds of Super 8 motels in your lifetime. Travelling up I-95 for hours on rides to Jersey and New York or on longer hauls southward to the Carolinas, Georgia, and down the endless Florida coast, the rectangular sign with big red 8, black “Super,” and bright yellow background is hard to ignore, even as it blends in with the melange of fast food oases and other budget-conscious lodges that dot the interchanges and byways of our endless ribbons of highway.

Full disclosure–I’ve never stayed at a Super 8 Motel. Never given the place much thought, really. Not because I’m some kind of snob when it comes to accommodations. Sure, I enjoy a swanky room at a Ritz Carlton or Monaco hotel. But I’m equally at home at a Motel 6, where Tom Bodett leaves the light on for us, or at a Holiday Inn, my parent’s motel of choice for our occasional family junkets. I’ve even stayed at a few La Quinta’s, which one of my musician friends, (who’s seen the inside of many a motel), insists means “next to Denny’s.” Somehow, however, my travelling stars and terrestrial GPS never aligned to guide me into the parking lot of a Super 8.

But last night, while drifting off to sleep with Jason Isbell’s evocative new song “Super 8” from his magnificent album “Southeastern” (buy it!), something about the name of this hotel hit me like an epiphany. I’d always assumed that Super 8 referred to the price of renting a modest room at one of the chain’s humble properties. And indeed, Wikipedia reports that the fare at the first Super 8, in Aberdeen, South Dakota, was $8.88 per night. With that price, and with its reputation for clean, no-frills convenience, it’s no surprise that Super 8 took off like a Chevy stock Super Eight zooming down the roads of Jersey, as in Bruce Springsteen’s “Lost In The Flood” from “Greetings From Asbury Park.” I had no idea, however, that Super 8, which now is owned by Wyndham Hotels, is the world’s largest motel chain. And while listening to Mr. Isbell lament that he “don’t want to die in a Super 8,” I suddenly realized why the name makes sense. Super 8, you see, is a play on the word “superate,” a verb that means “to outdo; to surpass; to exceed.” And with more than 2,000 properties and over 125,000 rooms in the US and Canada, there’s no denying that Super 8 Motels, (now known as Super 8 Worldwide) truly has done precisely as its name suggests.

QUOTE OF THE DAY: “I know bad things happen. Bad things happen. But you can still live. You can still live.” Line from the movie “Super 8,” spoken by character Joe Lamb, played by actor Joel Courteney.

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