Monday, April 2, 2012

Great White Band Fights Over Name

Russell v. Kendall, No. CV12-02477 (C.D. Cal. complaint filed March 22, 2012).

The Great White band has had its share of notoriety and legal problems over the past decade, largely due to poor decision-making.  According to the Courtroom News Service it looks like another bad decision has led to another legal problem.  This time, the band is fighting over whether its name is owned by the founder and lead singer Jack Russell, or by the members who continued the band when Russell had to leave for a while due to medical issues.

It seems the trouble started in August 2010, when Russell was hospitalized and underwent surgery for a perforated bowel.  While he recuperated, other singers filled in for him during the band's live performances.  Russell claims everyone knew his absence was temporary, and that he would resume singing with the band when he had recovered.  But when he announced he was ready to return in December 2011, the band imposed a series of "unfair requirements" for his return (including abstaining from taking medications), and gave interviews claiming that Russell was also engaging in substance abuse, and that his addiction troubles were the reason for their not letting him return.  The band filed to register the trademark Great White with the Patent and Trademark Office.  After Russell formed a new band called "Jack Russell's Great White," Russell's' complaint claims that the band threatened litigation against any location that booked Russell's band.  The band is also planning to release a new Great White album later this year.

The Complaint alleges federal law claims for  trademark infringement, trademark dilution and unfair competition and state law claims for trademark infringement, unfair competition, injury to business reputation, and interference with prospective economic advantage.  Russell seeks injunctive relief and damages in excess of $500,000.  The defendants have not filed answers or responsive motions yet.

In similar situations we counsel clients to decide up front who is going to own the name, and what happens in various scenarios when band members leave, the band dissolves, etc.  Whether the entity is going to own the name or one of its members, the decision needs to be made and documented.  Then there aren't any disputes in the future over ownership of the name.  Apparently this advice wasn't given to or followed by Great White.  And now it is going to cost a lot in legal fees to sort the matter out.

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