Legal fight waged for right to Bill Monroe’s name

November 2012

Live events sector


There’s a sour note in the legacy of bluegrass music legend Bill Monroe, as the man who runs an annual festival in Monroe’s honour is locked in a legal battle with the county over who gets to use Monroe’s name. It seems Campbell “Doc” Mercer and his organisation, the Jerusalem Ridge Foundation, can’t use Monroe’s likeness or name to promote the Jerusalem Ridge Bluegrass Music Festival, which he puts on annually to honour the “Father of Bluegrass”, because Ohio County and the county Industrial Foundation lay legal claim to Monroe’s name and image, having bought the usage rights from the musician’s son 13 years ago. The dispute prompted Mercer to move the event from Monroe’s home site to a neighbouring farm, once the homestead of Monroe’s grandparents.

Two years after County officials and the Industrial Foundation purchased the commercial rights to Monroe’s name and likeness in 1999 from the musician’s son, James Monroe, they hired Mercer to run the Bill Monroe Bluegrass Music Foundation, with the aim of restoring Monroe’s home site near Rosine and developing a memorial park. Ohio County Circuit Judge Ronnie Dortch concluded last year that the informal actions and comments of Industrial Foundation officials indicated the Foundation “would eventually assign the Monroe Name Agreement” to the Jerusalem Ridge Foundation, but the Judge noted that the Industrial Foundation never put this in writing. The relationship between Mercer and the Foundation soured in 2003 and the Foundation then declined to give usage rights to Monroe’s name and image to Mercer’s organization. James Monroe won a 2005 injunction in Tennessee stopping Mercer from using his father’s name. Then Mercer sued the county in 2007, saying officials broke a promise. The Industrial Foundation contends Mercer never had a claim to the Bill Monroe brand.

Arizona Daily Star

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