“Jonathan Brightman from Buckcherry.”
“Jonathan Brightman from Buckcherry who?”
“Jonathan Brightman from Buckcherry and I’m suing you.”
“No, seriously, who the fuck are you?”
I wasn’t there for the first email exchange between Jonathan Brightman – ex- of sentimental LA hard rockers Buckcherry and, since 2008, of sentimental LA hard rockers Black Robot – and Waterford’s finest punk rock duo, since 2006, Black Robots. But if I had been there, I imagine that’s someway along the lines of how it would have gone.
As a matter of fact, I jest. I wasn’t there, but thanks the wonders of leaked email correspondence, I do have an exact transcript of how it went down – and it wasn’t all that different to the hilarious children’s joke outlined above.
A few short weeks ago, Irish two-piece Black Robots were contacted by Brightman’s Black Robot – their web manager, to be precise – to inform them that their names were too similar and that his trademark was being infringed. They were told in no uncertain terms that they had been reported to Facebook, MySpace, etc. and that they would be well-advised to begin the process of changing their name before their pages were deleted.
A subsequent email by Brightman referred to this as “courteous gesture.” This seemed odd to me because I, too, in my time as Sputnik editor, have received similarly courteous gestures that have left with no doubt that were I not to comply that I would be on the receiving end of some forcible compliance. It seems an oddly flippant way of notifying somebody that you’re about to make a massive imposition on their life.
One can empathise with the unfortunate black gang member in American History X, when Edward Norton’s character extended the “courteous gesture” of advising him to bite the kerb, lest the process of having his brains sprayed all over the pavement be made unnecessarily uncomfortable.
It’s well worth reading the correspondence in full, but long story short is that Black Robot’s web manager contacted Black Robot, informing them of that they were in the process of being fucked, and the Irish band’s frontman Deenosaurus decided to respond in the only way he knew how: outright mockery.
What followed was part-catty, part-hilarious, but the ultimate result was that Facebook and MySpace deleted the smaller band’s pages. In the spirit of goodwill, JB himself wrote a misguided email in an attempt to justify his actions, which they also posted online verbatim, this time without a response.
Black Robot released an album last year on an obscure Sony imprint, Rocket Science Ventures. Their first and only single, a cover of JJ Cale’s blues classic ‘Cocaine,’ scored a music video that featured no less than a dozen hookers in an otherwise empty room throwing $1 bills at the band.
Now let it be said that I am not expert on hookers, but were I to book a room and a gaggle of whores, I’m sure I’d be able to think of a better way to use them than to watch me mime a rock song from a bygone era in front of a video camera. But if I had to shoot a music video, I would at least hire enough hookers to fill the room. Otherwise, why bother? Nobody wants to see a half-empty room of clothed hookers pretending to lust over a bunch of middle-aged men with bad hair and skin.
Brightman commented on the video: “We made this in the spirit of the classic rock videos of our time with lots of beautiful girls and humor.” Yet I’m pretty sure Motley Crue had more than a couple of strippers and a handful of slappers in the ‘Girls, Girls, Girls’ video. In fact, they probably didn’t even have to pay them. Is it a sign of how far rock has fallen that not only do you have to pay hookers to show up at your video shoot, but you also have to pay them not to practice their art?
I don’t mean this as a diss on their music. Sure, they are a generic hard rock bad, but regular readers of this blog know how much I love cheesy ’80s metal, and I was hard into Buckcherry back when they were cool. It’s commendable that Brightman has managed to resurrect his career and get his music distributed by a major label again, but the fact remains that his band are hardly so successful that it’s become imperative for them to enforce their (presumably U.S.) trademark on bands in entirely different countries.
Sure, Facebook and MySpace are both based in the United States and presumably defer to U.S. law, so it’s really only weakness and a wariness of litigation that prompted the social networking sites to once again side with the “big” guy. A similar situation occurred in reverse back in the ’90s, when a San Diego band named Blink were sued by an Irish act of the same name, and forced to become blink-182. In that case, at least, it was a genuine impasse – it’s harder to see how Black Robot and Black Robots could be confused that much, especially as neither band has achieved international success.
International trademark is a confusing area for lawyers – let alone the rest of us – but there is precedent in this area. In Ireland, a company named “Diesel” manufactures and markets mediocre knock-offs through its own stores as the result of a legal loophole. Geographically-challenged lawyers for the original Diesel company registered their trademark in the UK and assumed that it covered Ireland too.
A glance at a map would have told otherwise, and the mistake has made it very difficult for the brand to market itself in the country. Diesel has presumably lost tens of millions as a result, and it has no legal recourse. Black Robot had a more straightforward run as social networking sites tend to comply with any and all legal demands, but even JB’s email seems to hint towards the same lack of geographical knowledge, citing the UK release of some tapes back in the ’90s as proof of historical trademark.
In the end, it turns out the Waterford band weren’t so wedded to the name that they would bother fighting. Cleverly, they decided to release their debut album (referred to in the emails), under the name BL_CK R_B_TS, for free download. The ridiculousness of the situation is clear to see: there is only one way the new name could possibly be pronounced, yet the LA band have not been in touch about changing it. Perhaps they forgot to pay their web manager this month.
All things considered, the original Black Robots were probably right not to fight the imposition on their naming rights. LA Black Robot are distributed by a subsidiary of Sony Music – the second largest label on the planet – and though the majors have been releasing less records and cutting frontline staff left and centre, they’ve still got more than their full complement of lawyers on retainer.
More to the point, BL_CK R_B_TS is a way more badass name than Black Robots could ever have been. So when Black Robot have fallen apart at the seams leaving only one desperate founding member, as all mediocre major label rock acts are honour-bound to do, they’ll still have an incredible name. In the meantime, enjoy the excellent lo-fi rock album Farewell Black Robots, available now for the total fee of absolutely zilch.