Even as the third incarnation of Black Sabbath – now doing business as Heaven & Hell – prepares to tour to promote its new album, “The Devil You Know,” a battle is raging over who should own the Sabbath name.
Frontman Ozzy Osbourne, who left the band in 1979 and returned in 1997 for periodic touring and a live album, is suing guitarist Tony Iommi, accusing him of falsely assuming ownership of the Sabbath name in a filing with the U.S. Patent and Trademark Office. The suit contends that Osbourne’s “signature vocals” were responsible for the band’s “extraordinary success,” noting its decline in popularity after he left the first time. Osbourne is demanding a 50 percent share of the name for himself as well as a split of monies earned while he was not in the band.
Iommi has not yet responded to the suit, but prior to that he acknowledged to Billboard.com that a desire to avoid “legal issues” was behind adopting the name Heaven & Hell for the currently active lineup that includes himself, original bassist Terry “Geezer” Butler, singer Ronnie James Dio (who replaced Osbourne in 1979) and drummer Vinnie Appice. And whole he acknowledged that having another name for a band that had recorded as Black Sabbath “does get confusing,” he maintained that it portrays the current group’s repertoire more accurately.
“I think if we went under the Black Sabbath label it would cause problems along the line,” Iommi said. “People would expect us to be playing ‘Iron Man’ and ‘Paranoid’ and other stuff from (the Osbourne era), and that wasn’t the idea with this lineup. The idea was to play all the stuff we’ve done with Ronnie, and that’s why we’re using the different name.”
Heaven & Hell, which reunited in 2007, is currently on tour in Europe and begins a 15-show North American swing on Aug. 7 in Vancouver.
Osbourne has also reached out to Iommi in a public statement released by his publicist, which reads:
“Since 1997 when Geezer, Bill (Ward, the group’s original drummer) and myself rejoined the band, Black Sabbath has returned to its former glory as we headlined sold-out arenas and amphitheatres playing to upwards of 50,000 people at each show around the world. We worked collectively to restore credibility and bring dignity back to the name ‘Black Sabbath,’ which lead to the band being inducted into the UK and US Rock & Roll Hall of Fames in 2005 and 2006, respectively…Tony, I am so sorry it’s had to get to this point by me having to take this action against you. I don’t have the right to speak for Geezer and Bill, but I feel that morally and ethically the trademark should be owned by the four of us equally. I hope that by me taking this first step that it will ultimately end up that way. We’ve all worked too hard and long in our careers to allow you to sell merchandise that features all our faces, old Black Sabbath album covers and band logos, and then you tell us that you own the copyright. We’re all in our 60s now. The Black Sabbath legacy should live on long after we have all gone. Please do the right thing.”