Little River Band Trade Mark Dispute

February 2017



Australia’s The New Daily has a well written piece on the trials and tribulations of founding (but former) members of Little River Band, one of the country’s first bands to crack America when their track “Help Is On Its Way” entered the US Top Twenty in November 1977. The song, written by lead singer Glenn Shorrock, peaked at number 14 on the Billboard charts and  Between 1977 and 1983 Little River Band had eleven top 20 hits in the United States, leading the way for an Oz invasion that included success for Air Supply, Men At Work, INXS, Savage Garden, Wolfmother, Tame Impala and many more.
But for Shorrock and other LRB founding members, The New Daily says “the anniversary of the band’s breakthrough in America is tinged with bitterness.” And why is that? Well, since 1998, all of the original members, including Shorrock, Graeham Goble, Beeb Birtles and Derek Pellicci have been blocked from performing their hits in the US and Australia under the “Little River Band” banner because they no longer control the band’s trademarks. These are owned by Stephen Housedon, a British-born musician and songwriter, who was invited by the founding members to join LRB as lead guitarist in 1983 and is believed to have assumed full control of the trademarks in the late 1990s. And its Housden who has been touring a version of the band since the founding members left, and he has taken action to block their use(s) of the name “Little River Band”.
There have been other instances of similar rows benweet band members and former band members. In 2011 Bobby G (Robert Gubby), one of the four original members of Bucks Fizz whose wife is the owner of the band’s Trade Mark “Bucks Fizz”, successfully prevented the three other original members, Mike Nolan, Cheryl Baker and Jay Aston registering the “Original Bucks Fizz” as a trade mark. The UK Intellectual Property Office ruled that given Buck Fizz has existed in all sorts of incarnations over the years, the number original members was not relevant. And as Bobby G was the original trademark registrant, he has the right to use the name, with the IPO saying “The public would have no reason to expect the group performing as Bucks Fizz to consist of the original line-up [that] had not performed together for 24 years”. Gubby has been touring as Bucks Fizz for many years and his wife owns the Bucks Fizz trademark which was registered in 1997 during a previous legal battle over the name which included a spat with former member Nolan and Dollar frontman David Van Day. Van Day at one point tried to tour a ‘Bucks Fizz’ without any original members. The names of both the Doors and the Beach Boys have bee involved in disputes.
British Heavy metal band Saxon also had a dispute – but this one had a twist: Frontman and founder member Biff Byford had been touring the band for many years,  but discovered two former members had applied to trade mark the name (Byford had not applied for a Trade Mark). The case is Byford -v- Oliver and Dawson (2003): Byford had been a band member since its formation in the late 1970s. Steven Dawson and Graham Oliver were also founder members. Dawson left the band in 1985 and Oliver left in 1995. Byford continued as a member of the band through numerous new line-ups – always called ‘Saxon’. Oliver and Graham continued to perform but used a variety of names, often including their own names and often with a with a reference to Saxon. Oliver and Dawson never challenged Byford’s right to use the name ‘Saxon’ but in 1999 they registered “Saxon” as a trade mark and attempted to prevent Byford using the name. Byford applied to the Trade Mark Registry to have the trade mark declared invalid on the basis that the registration had been obtained in bad faith (under the Trade Mark Act 1994) and that Dawson and Oliver were guilty of ‘passing off’ and misrepresenting themselves as ‘Saxon’ when Byford was the ‘real’ Saxon. At that stage, Byford failed to have the trade mark declared invalid with the Registrar deciding that with band members (all of whom may have a claim on a band’s name) it was a ‘first come first served’ rule with regard to registration. Byford then applied to the High Court who overturned the Registrar’s decision and declared the Oliver/Dawson registration invalid. Mr Justice Laddie held that, in the circumstances, the band name must be owned by all of the original band members as ‘partners’. What this means is that if a band ‘partnership’ was split up NO member would own the name unless there was a formal agreement governing its use. However, the Judge held that, in the circumstances, both Dawson and Oliver abandoned their rights to the goodwill and ownership of the ‘Saxon’ name which was now owned by Byford and the new members of the band.
In the USA, The Supreme Court of California decided that two surviving members of the 70s group, The Doors, Raymond Manzarek And Robert Krieger, who wanted to continue to perform under the band’s ortighinal name and then under the name Doors of the 21 st Century could use neither name. The original band featured John Densmore, Ray Manzarek, the late Jim Morrison and Robert Krieger but after the Manzarek/Krieger tour grossed $8 million and used photographs of the original Doors in publicity,  Densmore and the family of Jim Morrison and his estate joined forces to prevent the use of the name. The Los Angeles Superior Court agreed to block any use of the name The Doors, and the Court of Appeal upheld this decision. The pair were subsequently prevented from performing, touring, promoting or otherwise holding themselves out to be The Doors, The Doors of the 21st Century, or any other name that includes the words The Doors without prior written consent of all partners of the Doors partnership. Manzarek/Krieger subsequently used the name D21C and toured as Riders of the Storm.


In this case, Shorrock told The New Daily that he didn’t want to give the controversy much energy, even though he believes his image and identity have been used to promote events for the American version of LRB. LRB’s former manager Glenn Wheatley told the New Daily that the controversy over name ownership had taken a toll on Shorrock and the other founding members but they are not likely to take the risk of a costly court battle to get the trademarks back even though “Glenn [Shorrock] can’t even promote his solo concerts as the former lead singer of the Little River Band.”
An audit of Australia’s trademark registry by The New Daily found that more than half of the country’s forty biggest chart-topping bands since 1970 have never bothered to register trademarks to protect their performance rights and branding. The high-profile members of top-selling bands such as Air Supply, Split Enz (the forerunners of Crowded House), Regurgitator and Savage Garden do not have registered trademarks (Saxon) (Bucks Fizz) (The Doors)

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