When you cover enough stories about trademark disputes, you sometimes are amazed at just how petty these types of things can get. I imagine for those who cover the kinds of arguments and disputes that happen within musical acts, it can be a similar experience. But when you intersect petty band members and a petty trademark dispute, that’s when your faith in humanity is truly put to the test.
Serving as an example of this is your one uncle’s favorite band, Boston. It seems that a one-time member of the band, guitarist Barry Goudreau, has since continued his musical career with other acts. Those acts have occasionally promoted themselves as including a former member of Boston. For this, the band’s frontman, Tom Scholz, filed a trademark suit against Goudreau.
Goudreau has referred to himself as “Barry Goudreau from Boston,” “Barry Goudreau of the Multi-Platinum Group Boston,” and, in an advertisement for an appearance last summer with James Montgomery, “Barry Goudreau Lead Guitarist Rock Legend from the Band Boston.”
Scholz’s suit goes to great lengths to minimize the role Goudreau had in the band, which amounted to being the lead guitarist on their first two albums. Which, whatever, as far as trademark law goes. It then goes on to note that there was an agreement in which Goudreau would have no right to the “Boston” name. And perhaps, depending on how formal the nature of this agreement was, there might be a discussion to be had over contract violations. Except that this is a trademark dispute, so one wonders just how formal that agreement was.
Regardless, the suit went before a jury which, thankfully, found its claims to be of little merit.
Barry Goudreau, onetime guitarist for Boston, did not infringe on the band’s trademark by billing himself as a former member of Boston after leaving the group. That’s the verdict in a lawsuit brought against Goudreau by Tom Scholz, leader and principal songwriter of Boston in US District Court.
Likely because even for those not familiar with the minutiae of trademark law, it strains the mind to accept that issuing a factual statement should somehow violate intellectual property rights. Goudreau was a member of the band. Promoting him with that fact on material for another act has a roughly zero chance of confusing anyone. Still, Scholz’s follow up to the verdict highlights the pervasive misunderstanding that caused him to bring the suit to begin with.
“Despite the jury’s verdict on our trademark violation claim, today’s outcome was satisfactory because it reinforces a clear message for musicians and artists across the nation,” Scholz said in a statement. “Trademark law exists not just to protect the rights of those who create, but to preserve the legacy and value of their art.”
Note the complete absence of any reference to the actual purpose of trademark law: protecting the public from product confusion. If Scholz had instead viewed his former bandmate’s actions through that lens, instead of one in which the law serves only creators, as though it were copyright, he would have known better than to bring the suit to begin with.