WITH CALLOUS DISREGARD
by Marty Thau
Here's a little story about how hypocritical a major corporation can be. In 1977 I founded Red Star Records, an indie label designed to present new rock 'n' roll music, and released my first two records -- Suicide's classic debut and Boston's Real Kids LP. Both were well received and set the stage for further releases by groups like the Fleshtones, the New York Dolls, Martin Rev, Richard Hell & The Voidoids plus a number of compilations that included performances by the Ramones, Blondie and Brian Setzer. Over the years I reissued these same LPs internationally many times and still do to this day because they're always in demand.
In other words, my name “Red Star Records” has been in continuous use since 1977.
This past October (2001) the Heineken USA Company struck up a deal with Epic Records to release a record on their own Red Star Records label called "Red Star Sounds Volume 1: Soul Searchin’." It's a very good record indeed -- neo-r 'n' b songs by artists like Erykah Badu, Jill Scott, Macy Gray, Nelly Furtado and India Arie, among others.
However Heineken is using my company name as their own without consideration or compensation.
I contacted my lawyer and sent Epic and Heineken a cease-and-desist notice claiming they were violating my rights. Heineken's highly-paid Washington Trademark attorney informed us they had conducted a search of the trademark files to see if Red Star Records was available for usage, and did not maliciously intend to wrongfully violate my rights, but since I hadn't trademarked Red Star Records back in '77 they assumed it was free and clear.
Okay, so here's where it gets down and dirty. Months passed. Silence. When I continued to object to Heineken’s usage of my trade name, they informed me that their intention regarding the release of “Red Star” records was to benefit urban musicians, and therefore, I should respect their noble gesture and go along with the program. (Translation: “let's sell more beer to Blacks”).
I have what is called Common Law Rights and knew I could (and will) overturn their Trademark Application and be a total nuisance, but instead I wanted to settle this issue amicably. I proposed they use the name “Heineken's Red Sounds” instead, and only release one or two urban CDs per year with the proper acknowledgment on all CD packages that their Heineken Red Star entity was a nonprofit organization.
This did not suit them because their music marketing plans include a 60-city tour of alternative rock artists this coming summer under the Red Star name that has nothing to do with benefiting “urban” musicians and everything to do with selling beer. Clever marketers trying to look righteous. As Yogi once said ... "it ain't over 'til it's over."
Bottom line: in the end they basically told me what to do with myself - of course, in much more polite terms as they accused me of being impolite and presumptuous for pursuing my rights. I guess I'm just a little guy and don't deserve consideration, and since they're a major corporation they can step all over me and rewrite history at the same time. All to sell more beer.
DISCLAIMER: So as to avoid prosecution under the USA Patriot Act, I hereby advise all interested parties that my announced intention to be a nuisance to Heineken USA should be interpreted as verbal criticism only, and not as a personal threat against any of its employees - although I can think of a few lawyers who deserve, and would probably love, to be spanked.
Did you ever try Samuel Adams beer? It's a very tasty drink.
Marty Thau, Eric Olsen and Mike Crooker publish the excellent Web log Tres Producers -- "thoughts on culture, politics, music and stuff."