Hollywood Docket: Don Henley Sues; T Rex Bangs; Wyclef Jean Wins

Don Henley - P 2014
AP Images/Invision

Don Henley - P 2014

Don Henley is suing a Duluth Trading Company over an email advertisement that the Wisconsin-based clothing company might have figured was a harmless pun, but the singer sees as an unauthorized use of his name, trademarks and publicity rights.

The Eagles front-man takes issue with marketing that reads, “Don A Henley and Take It Easy,” seemingly a reference to the band’s breakthrough song “Take It Easy” co-written by Jackson Browne and Glenn Frey.

Henley, who is quite protective of his intellectual property, has sued the clothing manufacturer in a California district court. He's alleging that the company's advertisement takes advantage of his celebrity and is likely to cause confusion among consumers about the source of sponsorship. He's represented by Melanie Howard and Thomas Jirgal at Loeb & Loeb.

A spokesperson for Henley told THR, "This kind of thing happens with some degree of frequency and the members of the Eagles always defend their rights, often at great expense. One would think that the people in charge of marketing for these corporations would have learned by now that U.S. law forbids trading on the name of a celebrity without permission from that celebrity.

"Both Mr. Henley and the Eagles have worked hard, for over 40 years, to build their names and goodwill in the world community. They pride themselves on the fact that they have never allowed their names, likenesses or music – individually or as a group – to be used to sell products. Their names are their trademarks and, therefore, they take offense when an individual or a business tries to piggyback and capitalize on their art, their hard work and their goodwill in the public arena," the spokesperson continued.

Here's Henley's complaint. The objectionable advertisement can be found on the fifth page.

In other entertainment law news:

  • Rolan Feld, the son of T Rex frontman Marc Bolan, has obtained 144 copyrights connected to the band's songs, including those on the album “Electric Warrior” like "Get It On (Bang A Gong).” In July 2013, Feld sued publisher Westminster Music Ltd. for ownership, on the basis that rights revert to an author’s heirs when the author dies during the initial copyright term. Feld's case then got a big boost when the U.S. Supreme Court earlier this year addressed another reversion case — involving the classic film Raging Bull — and limited the application of laches (a defense based upon the prejudicial effect of a plaintiff's delayed filing) in intellectual property cases. The parties then worked out a settlement with the result leading to the return of copyrights to the Feld family. Feld was represented by Helen Yu and other attorneys at ‎Gradstein & Marzano, the same firm that is litigating some of the pre-1972 lawsuits on behalf of the Turtles.
  • In other rock music legal news, Sony Music has beaten a lawsuit filed by the band Toto over what it should earn from digital sales of its music, including hits like “Rosanna” and “Africa.” It was one of several cases in recent years based on the idea that sales through outlets like iTunes and Amazon should be treated as “licenses” rather than “sales,” with Toto’s spin being that licenses are indistinguishable from “leases,” for which the band is contractually afforded a high rate of 50 percent of the net revenue. In a Sept. 29 summary judgment ruling, a New York district judge found that the digital sales should not be considered leases, a designation reserved for uses of Toto’s songs in other products like compilation albums. The judge agreed with Sony that the rate it had been paying the band, a 2002 rate set for “all Records made for digital playback,” applies to digital sales. However, the judge refused to preemptively rule in Sony’s favor if the record company pulls Toto’s recordings from retailers like iTunes and the band then sues, so it’s possible the fight will continue.
  • Wyclef Jean has won a partial victory in a copyright suit over song sampling. The hip-hop artist was accused of using part of “Bumpin’ Bus Stop,” a track written by singer David Pryor in 1974, in the title track for his soundtrack to the first Step Up film. California district judge Dean Pregerson rejected two of the claims brought by the family of Pryor, who died in 2006, on the grounds that they address an earlier recording of “Bumpin’ Bus Stop” and not the one Wyclef Jean actually sampled. The family’s other claims remain in play, and Wyclef Jean isn’t the only artist the plaintiff is suing over “Bumpin’ Bus Stop” — a claim has also been filed against Kanye West for allegedly sampling the song in his hit single “Gold Digger.”
  • The writer claiming his novel inspired Warner Bros.’ film Lottery Ticket is out of luck in court. On Monday, Georgia district court judge Timothy Batten Sr. granted summary judgment in favor of Warners and the film’s production companies — Alcon Entertainment and Ice Cube’s Cube Vision — in the copyright infringement lawsuit Franklin White filed against them in April 2013. White claimed that his book First Round Lottery Pick had become the basis for the film after he sent it to Cube Vision’s Matt Alvarez in 2009. But the production companies argued that screenwriters Erik White and Abdul Williams finished the script that would become Lottery Ticket in 2008, with no inspiration from Franklin’s book. The court also rejected the argument that Franklin’s novel, an urban crime story,  was substantially similar to the comedy film, finding the works “extraordinarily different.”

Oct. 10, 9:21 a.m.: Updated with statement from Don Henley's spokesperson.