An interesting topic came up this week. Trademarks, copyrights, patents, etc. A talented and cool graphic designer took the trouble to work up some pieces for us. We can't use the work, partly because we're happy with Haradaworld who we use for everything we produce (artists and promoters produce their own stuff and we use that too, but as far as what we have done, we're happy with our guy in Austin) - but we also couldn't use it because it included language that is copyrighted by a corporation which is large and which we respect and know a lot of folks ranging from dishwashers to the VP level. It got us thinkin' about some of the interesting trademark & copyright issues we've been exposed to. Our personal experience surely doesn't even scrape enough off the iceberg to make a Sno-Cone, but here goes.
Ed and I were in Memphis in March '92, 8 months before the original House of Blues opened in Cambridge, MA. We saw a little juke joint called House of the Blues. Took a picture of it. When HoB opened later that year, we thought it was interesting but also figured there must have been a healthy handful of greasy spoons across America called The Burger King well before BK went into business.
I would later learn a couple things about how that stuff works when a friend of ours (mine and Ed's) in Chicago had a GREAT band called Swimmer. This guy, Nicholas Barron, is like Al Green, Stevie Wonder, Van Morrison and Joe Cocker all rolled into one. Swimmer built some serious momentum in the Midwest, named as a "top band to watch in the midwest" by Playboy at a time when the Midwest was producing tons of major-label, taste-making bands. They were on the circuit of South By Suthwest type conferences where (at the time) that was the primary way bands got record deals (and at a time when getting a deal meant everything). Then some baby band from England called Swimmer signed to Madonna's label, Maverick, a subsidiary of Warner Bros. They trademarked the name and our friend Nicholas got hit with a cease-and-desist order. What he learned was, even if someone else beats you to the punch by trademarking a
name, if you can prove you were using it in trade first, you can challenge and trump that trademark. The irony is, especially when battling a company like Warner Bros., in order to protect what's yours your pockets must be deep. Our friend didn't have the dough to embark on that, and Warner Bros. was offering him [we know how much but let's call it approximately the annual income of the average American at the time] to stop using the name Swimmer, so he took the deal. After changing the band's name, the audience disappeared virtually overnight and his career has not been the same since. That said, Nicholas ranks among the world's smartest motherfuckers and despite the knuckleballs life has thrown him, dude does well and has never done anything other than create and perform music to make a living. But for that Warner Bros. thing, though, our friend would be a household name, counting his millions.
AMAZING SCREW JOB
In '98, there was a great independent psychobilly band out of Rhode Island called the Amazing Royal Crowns. They also had some good momentum, were on the Vans Warped tour and things were happening. There was a swing revival band on Warner Bros. called Royal Crown Revue, not the same name
and not musically similar in my opinion (rockabilly/punk does not resemble fake swing w/ funny suits), but as RCR was riding the wave of the swing revival at the time, Warner sued the Amazing Royal Crowns and they were forced to drop the Royal from their name, becoming the Amazing Crowns. They had just produced a shitload of CDs and t-shirts, too, but if they were caught selling them it would have been trouble. Similar to the Swimmer case, their career tanked in a hurry. At the time I was doing some writing for Original Cool, a small roots/rockabilly/swing magazine, and did a piece called "Amazing Crowns Get Royally Screwed" citing many examples of bands with similar or the same names which never resulted in lawsuits.
HOLY CRAP! ORIGINAL COOL IS DEFUNCT BUT THAT ARTICLE IS STILL ONLINE! CLICK HERE!
^ space bar challenged, I blame the editor. Seriously, major space bar issues. But we digest...
And so we learn:
1. What's in a name? A LOT, Jack!
2. Don't mess with Warner Brothers, they're bigger than RC Cola.