Earth, Wind & Fire Sues To Stop Rival ‘Legacy Reunion’ Band From Using Similar Name
The trademark lawsuit claims an unaffiliated group "hatched a scheme" to make ticket buyers think it was the real band.
Famed R&B act Earth, Wind & Fire is suing a rival group that’s been performing under the name “Earth Wind & Fire Legacy Reunion,” calling them imposters who are infringing the band’s trademarks to “mislead the ticket-buying public.”
In a lawsuit filed Tuesday (March 7) in Florida federal court, the company that owns the band’s intellectual property argued that Legacy Reunion’s only claim to the name is a few “side musicians,” who briefly played with Earth, Wind & Fire many years ago.
Despite that allegedly spurious link, the lawsuit says the rival group’s organizers “hatched a scheme to falsely imply in advertising that this new group was the real Earth, Wind & Fire.”
“Defendants did this to benefit from the commercial magnetism and immense goodwill the public has for plaintiff’s ‘Earth, Wind & Fire’ marks and logos, thereby misleading consumers and selling more tickets at higher prices,” the group’s lawyers wrote.
According to the lawsuit, the allegedly phony group is directly competing with the “real” Earth Wind & Fire, which has continued to tour since founder Maurice White died in 2016. Led by longtime members Philip Bailey, White’s brother Verdine and Ralph Johnson, the band operates under a license from Earth Wind & Fire IP, a holding company owned by White’s sons.
In its lawsuit on Tuesday, attorneys for that company claimed that the organizers of Legacy Reunion (Substantial Music Group and Stellar Communications, Inc.) have misled not only ticket buyers but resale websites like StubHub.
“The [Stubhub] ticket listing combines concerts by the real Earth, Wind & Fire with the band defendants’ promote, and the tickets offered for concerts by the band Defendants promote have nothing to do with the real Earth, Wind & Fire.”
Tribute acts – groups that exclusively cover the music of a particular band — are legally allowed to operate, and they often adopt names that allude to the original. But they can get into legal hot water if they make it appear that they are affiliated with the original. In 2021, ABBA filed a similar trademark lawsuit against a band that had been touring under the name ABBA Mania, calling it “parasitic.”
In the current case, Substantial Music Group allegedly used “Legacy Reunion” in listings (seemingly a reference to the former EWF members) but often in a separate font or in a different part of a logo. The group later allegedly changed the name to “Legacy Reunion of Earth Wind & Fire Alumni,” but the lawsuit claims the changes weren’t enough to avoid confusion.
Among other things, the lawsuit cited alleged examples of angry consumers who mistakenly bought tickets for the wrong band, including one that read, “This was not Earth Wind and Fire. NO Philip Bailey or Verdine White. It was just a band playing Earth Wind and Fire music. I purchased 3 tickets and I was very disappointed. It was truly false advertisement. I want my money back!!!!!”
In a statement to Billboard on Wednesday in response to the lawsuit, Substantial Music Group founder Richard Smith called the trademark complaint “disappointing.”
“It is sad that a greedy corporation has chosen to use trademark law to attempt to pass judgment on which historic members of Earth, Wind & Fire are worthy of being called alumni of the band,” Smith said. “I was personally a member of the band for five years and performed on two tours and one album. I’m proud to be an alumnus of the musical group and the corporation’s dismissiveness of my and others’ contributions Earth, Wind & Fire is hurtful. We will not be erased.”
Read the entire lawsuit here: