Cities, states file class-action lawsuit against musical bands

By C.F. Twob
PFP staff writer

The old question “What’s in a name?” is certain to be re-examined with the filing of an unusual lawsuit.

The class-action lawsuit, filed on behalf of the cities of Boston, Denver, Miami and Bay City, Mich. along with the states of Kansas, Alabama and Georgia seeks an estimated $12.5 billion in damages from the rock groups Boston, Bay City Rollers and Kansas, Latino group Miami Sound Machine and the country music bands Alabama and the Georgia Satellites. It also seeks damages from the estate of folk singer John Denver, who died in 1997.

Boston mayor Thomas M. Menino told Ponderings from Pluto that the lawsuit came about as a result of the recent actions of the rock group Boston’s guitarist and songwriter Tom Scholz. Scholz had publicly requested that Republican presidential hopeful Mike Huckabee no longer use any of Boston’s songs in his campaign. The musician stated that the band has never endorsed a candidate, but that he supports Democratic frontrunner Barack Obama.

“Scholz and his band mates never asked the city of Boston for permission before choosing to name their band after it,” Menino explained. “I find Scholz’s criticism of Huckabee extremely hypocritical. Therefore, we would like them to either stop performing or to give us a percentage of their royalties.”

Boston has released six albums that have sold a combined 30 million copies.

The class-action lawsuit, filed on behalf of the cities of Boston, Denver, Miami and Bay City, Mich. along with the states of Kansas, Alabama and Georgia seeks an estimated $12.5 billion in damages from the rock groups Boston, Bay City Rollers and Kansas, Latino group Miami Sound Machine and the country music band Alabama. It also seeks damages from the estate of folk singer John Denver, who died in 1997.

Likewise, the complaints go as follows:

The city of Denver versus John Denver (whose birth name was Henry John Deutschendorf)
The city of Miami versus the Gloria Estefan-fronted Latino band Miami Sound Machine
The city of Bay City, Michigan versus the Scottish rock band Bay City Rollers
The state of Alabama versus the country music band Alabama
The state of Georgia versus the country music band Georgia Satellites

Michigan-based attorney Sam Bernstein, who’s heading a team of a dozen attorneys representing the four cities and two states, says that the plaintiffs simply want to be properly compensated for the names of their cities and states being used without authorization.

“Musicians gripe all the time about illegal downloading and politicians using their songs on the campaign trail, but they forget that they rip off cities and states by using those names as their group name without permission. This is a hypocrisy we intend to hold accountable,” Bernstein said in a statement. “Simply put, this is about giving the cities and states their fare share of their namesakes’ musical success.”

Scholz had no comment. Estefan, meanwhile, issued a statement through her attorney that her band’s success has resulted in far more financial returns and reinvestments into the city of Miami that she finds it disappointing she’d be subject to a lawsuit. Her statement also stated: “If Tom Scholz had just kept his mouth shut, I could be spending my time making music instead of having to deal with legal issues.”

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