Guns N’ Roses (GNR) are knockin on a trade mark lawsuit against Oskar Blues, a Longmont, US, based brewery. Back in August 2018 Oskar Blues applied to register a figurative ‘Guns N’ Rose’ logo with the US Patent and Trademark Office: the trade mark application ultimately knocked on heaven’s door following objection from GNR.
Despite this initial trade mark dispute, and according to the filed complaint, in 2018, Oskar Blues began to sell its ‘Guns N’ Rose’ beer in various outlets in the US. In the complaint, it is claimed that in December GNR’s manager spoke to Oskar Blues’ manager and requested the ‘Guns N’ Rose’ beer be discontinued. When this informal effort failed, various legal letters were exchanged in GNR’s hopes of the putting the matter to bed and avoiding a hangover.
Digital Music News, reports that Axl Rose even asked Oskar Blues to stop selling the beer. Essentially, all of GNR’s efforts to have the ‘Guns N’ Rose’ beer discontinued failed. Oskar Blues even went so far as explaining that it was happy to abandon its trade mark application and halt sales of the ‘Guns N’ Rose’ beer….in March 2020!
Of course, the next step for GNR was to issue a lawsuit against Oskar Blues for trade mark infringement and it did so on 09 May 2019 in the Federal District Court in Los Angeles. The complaint (link below) alleges that Oskar Blues is using the ‘Guns N’ Rose’ mark to ‘freeride’ off GNR’s goodwill, prestige, and reputation. Although it’s not all about beer, the complaint raises the issue of Oskar Blues’ sale of buttons and bandannas with the ‘Guns N’ Rose’ mark, which, of course, it is claimed that ‘bandannas are uniquely associated with GNR and their lead singer and general partner Axl Rose.’
In total, under the Lanham Act GNR’s complaint makes allegations of trade mark and common law infringement, false designation of origin, and trade mark dilution and by way of the California Business and Professions Code, an allegation of unfair competition and in breach of California Civil Code misappropriation of the right of publicity. GNR’s end game, should the suit go in the band’s favour, is to obtain an injunction to stop the sale of the beer (under the ‘Guns N’ Rose’ mark), have any merchandise destroyed and be awarded compensatory and treble punitive damages.
On GNR’s third cause of action (Trade mark Dilution under the Lanham Act), GNR assert that ‘The GUNS N’ ROSES mark is famous and distinctive within the meaning of the Lanham Act’. Under the Lanham Act, a mark is famous when it is widely recognised by the general US public as a designation of source of the goods of the marks owner. Previously marks such as BENTLEY, BURBERRY and NIKE have all been found to be famous. The court will not take GNR on their word that they are famous, instead this will need to be proved by way of formal evidence. This lawsuit, therefore, has the potential to require GNR to prove that they are in fact famous! I’m sure the 45 million record sales in the US might go a good job of doing this or at least prove they are infamous!
In any event, a dispute that involves rock music and beer is certainly one to keep an eye out for..
By Samuel O’Toole (www.lawditmusic.co.uk)