O-Town Locked in Trademark Dispute With Universal Music Group

Erik Johnson
O-Town

The record giant claims the re-formed boy band's name is too similar to that of legendary label Motown Records.

Members of the 2000s boy band O-Town have hit a snag in reclaiming their name.

After officially disbanding in 2003, the short-lived pop group -- which was formed during the first season of the ABC reality series Making the Band -- reunited a decade later, putting out two new studio releases (2014’s Lines & Circles and the 2017 EP Part 1) and going on tour.

But according to Universal Music Group (UMG), the group’s application for the “O-Town” trademark -- filed by the current lineup of Jacob Underwood, Trevor Penick, Erik Michael Estrada and Dan Miller in 2017 -- should not be allowed to move forward.

In a notice of opposition filed April 25, 2019, UMG claims that the “O-Town” mark is too similar to the recording giant’s own “Motown” mark (as in Motown Records) and that the group’s application should be denied.

“The Contested Mark, as used in association with the goods and services recited in the Application, is so similar to Opposer’s Marks as to be likely to create confusion, mistake, or deception as to the source, sponsorship, or affiliation of Applicants’ goods and services in the minds of consumers and persons in the trade,” UMG’s notice reads.

UMG further justifies its opposition by stating that the “O-Town” mark is “virtually identical” to the Motown mark “in sight, sound and commercial meaning,” and additionally claims that the inspiration for the “O-Town” mark was “widely reported” to be the Motown record label at the time the group was formed.

The original "O-Town" trademark was filed in March 2000 by the group's first manager, Lou Pearlman, who also managed acts including the Backstreet Boys and *NSYNC. That trademark was canceled in 2009.

Underwood, Penick, Estrada and Miller filed an answer to UMG’s opposition on June 10, claiming the “Motown” marks “have not become associated exclusively with UMG and its goods or services” and that there is “no likelihood” of confusion between the two. They go on to cite several other trademark filings using the Motown name that were not disputed by UMG, including “Motown Missile” and “Detroit Motown The Bus 36 Muscle.”

“O-Town has been selling records for almost 20 years now -- we’ve had T-shirts, pillowcases and everything under the sun sold with this logo on it, so if Motown thinks we’re infringing on their rights or have broken the law, why has it taken this many years to say so?” said Underwood, who also acts as the group’s manager, in an interview with Variety. “To claim that after 20 years of working as O-Town, there’s going to be confusion about our name is ridiculous. They let this be a mark when Lou got it around 1999, so if they have a problem with it now, why didn’t you have a problem with it then?”

While the group disputes UMG's claim that the O-Town name was inspired by the Motown record label, contemporary news reports appear to back up UMG. In a Washington Post article published in March 1999, the author of the piece writes that Pearlman claimed he “envisioned an Orlando-based company to rival Motown -- hence, O-town.” O-Town the band was formed the following year.

In an email response to Billboard, a lawyer for O-Town wrote, “We look forward to vindicating the band’s rights in its name and mark.”

UMG declined to comment for this story.

Underwood, Penick, Estrada, Miller and former O-Town member Ashley Parker Angel released two albums under the O-Town name before disbanding. The re-formed group is currently headlining the Pop 2000 tour alongside Ryan Cabrera, Aaron Carter and Tyler Hilton.


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