February 13, 2012 9:02am PT by Matthew Belloni
Variety Settles Long-Running Lawsuit Against L.A. Punk Band (Exclusive)
Variety has settled its protracted lawsuit against Los Angeles punk band The Vandals over an album cover that used lettering similar to the logo of the trade newspaper.
Vandals bassist Joe Escalante, who is also a lawyer and radio personality, tells us that Variety has agreed to drop the case, first filed in 2010, without requiring a cash settlement. A lawyer for Variety parent Reed Elsevier did not immediately respond to a request for comment, but a motion to dismiss is expected as soon as this week. Both sides will pay their own legal fees.
"This was the worst thing that's ever happened to me, and to the band, and the hardest thing I've ever done," says Escalante, who represented The Vandals himself. "However, as my wife says, the crash course in federal court litigation made me a better lawyer."
This odd case began when The Vandals' 10th album, Hollywood Potato Chip, was released in 2004. The album cover posed the band's name in lettering similar to the trademarked Variety logo.
Reed Elsevier lawyers sent a cease and desist letter and worked out a settlement with the band, which agreed to change the cover. But the band agreed it would pay $50,000 plus attorneys fees if the offending lettering ever re-appeared.
Then in 2010, Reed sued the band for breaching that deal, claiming the same image was being displayed on the websites for the band and its label Kung Fu Records. Escalante, a former CBS business affairs lawyer who has hosted various radio shows including the showbiz law-themed "Barely Legal," claimed the band wasn't behind the breaches.
Escalante got the case transferred from Delaware to Los Angeles in April 2011, crowing about the win and taunting Variety lawyer Henry Horbaczewski on the band's website.
"The Plaintiffs should all be ashamed and it is the Vandals' opinion that [Variety's lawyers] are liable for malpractice damages by ruining their client’s reputation in a frivolous attempt to act like Godzilla when it comes to hoarding their precious font and inhibiting protected free speech," the site read. (Escalante also create an amusing video featuring a fake conversation between Variety's former editor Peter Bart and his lawyer about spending $100,000 to litigate a claim that likely wasn't worth $50,000.)
Variety now seems to have said enough is enough.
"Hopefully this will be a lesson to other media companies and law firms with respect to how they deal with First Amendment issues in the Internet Age," says Escalante.