Who Owns A Band Name? 1980s New Wave Rockers Win Latest Legal Clash Over Band Trademarks

Members of the 1980s new wave band The Plimsouls have won a legal ruling against the group’s guitarist over the trademark rights to the band’s name – the music industry’s latest battle over the names of classic rock groups.

In a decision issued last week, a federal trademark tribunal sided with Peter Case and two other members of the Plimsouls – best known for their 1983 hit “A Million Miles Away” from the movie Valley Girl – in their fight with guitarist Eddie Munez.

The band had accused Munez of effectively going rogue, including performing under “The Plimsouls” with new musicians and seeking to secure his own trademarks to the name. They claimed fans “unwittingly bought tickets” to the shows because they thought it was the real band.

On Wednesday (May 18), the federal Trademark Trial and Appeal Board said it was “crystal clear” that the band collectively, and not Munez alone, owned the rights to “The Plimsouls” name – thanks in part to the fact that they were all continuing to receive royalties.

“[Munez] had and continues to have his cake (royalties from the band). But he cannot eat it too (exclusively own the band’s mark),” the board wrote. “The public associates the … THE PLIMSOULS with the group, not just its lead guitarist.”

The battle between the members of the Plimsouls is just the latest clash between bandmates over the legal rights to classic group names. Journey, Stone Temple Pilots and Jefferson Starship have all fought protracted litigation over their trademarks, as have members of the Rascals, the Ebonys, the Commodores and the Platters.

Such disputes often arise out of one question: Who truly constitutes the band? Is it the band members, or an LLC that owns the rights to the name? Is it the original lineup, or the one that produced the biggest hits? Does one key member and a bunch of replacements count? Fans, band members and lawyers will likely give you different answers.

In the case of the Plimsouls, the band argued that all four members had always been members of a partnership that equally split control of the band’s intellectual property, including the trademarks to the band’s name.

Munez argued back that the band had “abandoned” any such rights because his bandmates had failed to perform any live concerts under the name since 2007. But in its ruling last week, the trademark board rejected that argument.

“Petitioner has not abandoned its mark The Plimsouls because the band’s music has remained on sale … throughout the band’s 45-year existence,” the judge wrote. “The [trademark] has always identified their group, based on the group’s music, and live and filmed performances. This explains why consumers have complained to [the band] after mistaking [Munez]’s band for [The Plimsouls] and being disappointed as a result.”

Neither side immediately returned a request for comment on Wednesday.

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