Circus owners say Ringling Bros. & Barnum and Bailey own tagline and have used it for over 150 years
Kid Rock is in legal hot water for using the phrase "The Greatest Show on Earth" without permission from its trademark owners.
The phrase belongs to Feld Entertainment, longtime owners of the Ringling Bros. and Barnum & Bailey Circus, which took the touring extravaganza off the road earlier this year, but retained all intellectual property for the circus including its famous trademarked tagline "The Greatest Show on Earth."
Now Feld is suing both Kid Rock and Live Nation in Federal court in Florida, arguing that the singer did not ask permission when using the tagline to promote his 2018 "Greatest Show on Earth" arena tour, which begins January in Nashville. The lawsuit claims Kid Rock, whose real name is Robert James Ritchie, and Live Nation, are infringing upon and diluting the trademark owned by Feld Entertainment.
A spokesperson for Live Nation told Billboard the company had no comment regarding the lawsuit.
Attorneys for Feld made a number of attempts to contact both Ritchie and Live Nation to resolve the dispute but were ignored, sources at Feld tell Billboard.
“We have authorized licensees for 'Ringling Bros.' and 'The Greatest Show on Earth,' but Kid Rock is not one of them,” Lisa Joiner, general counsel of Feld Entertainment, explains in a statement. “Feld Entertainment was not contacted by Kid Rock (or anybody else on his behalf) regarding his use of Feld Entertainment’s trademark.”
The lawsuit is asking for an order preventing Kid Rock from using the tour moniker or selling merchandise with the phrase.
“This historic trademark has been an important part of Ringling Bros. for the past century, and it is recognized as a trusted and iconic brand of family-friendly entertainment," said Kenneth Feld, chairman/CEO of Feld Entertainment in a statement provided to Billboard. "The Greatest Show On Earth continues to live on and will do so well into the future. We have no intention of surrendering the trademark or allowing it to be tarnished."
The circus officially stopped touring in May after 146 years on the road. Feld blamed poor ticket sales following the 2015 announcement to phase out elephants from the show. Feld continues to tour family show properties including Disney on Ice, Sesame Street Live, Marvel Universe and Monster Jam.
“They really do have to police their rights or they will risk losing them by allowing them to be diluted,” explains intellectual property attorney Steven Lowy in an interview with Amplify in October after the Kid Rock tour was announced. Lowy said Feld will likely have a significant legal advantage since Rock is infringing on the phrase with his tour announcement and liable for damages that could include surrendering a portion of the tour profits.
"Kid Rock and Live Nation have been around for a number of years, but the circus and phrase ‘Greatest Show on Earth’ have been around much longer," Lowy says.