Turn It Up To 11 – A Decades Old Trademark Dispute

May 20, 2014 — Leave a comment

The Misfits (the 1970’s and 80’s heavy metal band) are back in the news; but not for their music.

In an interesting squabble and lawsuit, one former band member is claiming rights to a series of very lucrative licensing deals. Musicians everywhere and businesses of all kinds should pay attention to the lessons coming out of this case!

How We Got Here

Glenn Danzig was a founding member of the band in 1977 but eventually split ways from the group.

In 1994, however, Danzig and the new band leader, Jerry Only, settled their differences in a private agreement. Danzig told the media that he gave up rights to the band’s name and skull logo with respect to performances but that he maintained a one-half ownership interest in the name and logo with respect to merchandise. Only publicly acknowledged this agreement years later.

Danzig’s new lawsuit claims that Only secretly re-registered the band’s marks in 2000 and subsequently obtained very profitable merchandising deals without including Danzig. These deals lead to the current dispute and lawsuit.

The Takeaways

While it will take some time for this case to proceed to either a judicial resolution or a settlement among the parties, mark owners should take note of the issues at hand.

First, if the 1994 agreement is valid and states what the members have publicly stated, then Only might be in a tight spot because his re-registration of the marks would have required him to certify to the USPTO that he (or his band) had the exclusive right to use the marks in commerce. If the prior agreement didn’t grant him such exclusive rights, then Danzig can presumably seek to cancel the validity of the current registrations that excluded him. He can then likely seek his cut from the merchandising deals.

Second, businesses must remember that trademarks are related to specific goods or services. In this case, the trademarks for the performance of music were granted to the band. But the trademarks for selling shirts and hats remained split between the band and Danzig. Thus, a business that performs multiple functions (for instance, a restaurant that also sells shirts) would be well advised to obtain rights for all of their various goods and services.

And remember, when seeking rights, a good attorney can be very helpful. Feel free to contact us anytime with trademark questions.

Image Credit: Thinkstock/r_gianluca

*This article is very general in nature and does not constitute legal advice. Readers with legal questions should consult with an attorney prior to making any legal decisions.

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