Hollywood trade newspaper Daily Variety is embroiled in heated litigation with California punk rock band the Vandals, whose bass player happens to be an attorney.
The dispute began in 2004, when the Vandals released their 10th album, "Hollywood Potato Chip," which included the band's name in lettering made to look like the trademarked Daily Variety logo. (Daily Variety is a rival of the Hollywood Reporter, sister title to Billboard.)
Reed Elsevier, Variety's parent company, sent a cease and desist letter and ultimately worked out a settlement with the band, which agreed to change the cover art and stop using the Variety-esque lettering. If the band members breached the deal, they agreed to pay $50,000 plus attorneys fees.
Case closed, right? Flash forward to April of this year, when Reed sued the band for breach of contract in federal court in Delaware, claiming the offending image had reappeared on a website for the band and its label Kung Fu Records.
Reed lawyers argue that the breach of the settlement agreement is clear-cut. The band claims it wasn't behind any errant images that may have popped up online and that Reed never provided an opportunity to "cure" any breaches.
Rather than pay a lawyer to fight Reed, group member Joe Escalante is handling the matter himself. He's a Loyola Law School alumnus and worked in business affairs at CBS before pursuing music. He still does pro bono work and became somewhat of a local celebrity hosting "Barely Legal Radio," a radio show devoted to entertainment law questions.
"I'm spending ridiculous amounts of hours on this," Escalante said. "Like four to 10 hours a day. It's a nightmare, but I'm learning how to do litigation. I hired a guy to teach me how to do it in Delaware."
He believes Reed filed the case in Delaware just to force the band to spend money fighting in a far-flung state. So Escalante got himself admitted to practice in Delaware and filed papers to try to transfer the case to Los Angeles. Reed is vigorously opposing the effort. The band has posted all the court documents on its website and will hold a fundraiser concert to raise money to fight the case on Friday.
Reed lawyer Henry Horbaczewski said he would continue to press the case, despite the drubbing the company is taking from Escalante.
"While we don't expect the Vandals to see the issues through our eyes, the publicity they have generated and continue to generate contains inaccuracies, out-of-context statements and false innuendo," Horbaczewski said. "This is a breach of contract suit based on materials and links posted on the Vandals' websites. We look forward to a court deciding these issues."