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Federal court to ex-band member: Your name use goes too far

If you're at all into popular music heavyweights from the 1970s and 1980s, you know the Commodores. That funk, rock and soul band dominated the charts for several years, and its name still resonates for millions of music lovers.

Thomas McClary well appreciates that. It is his awareness of the Commodores enduring name recognition that has led to his continuing efforts to cite it in connection with his solo musical career.

He can't do that.

As a co-founder of the group, McClary thought he could in the wake of the band's breakup. It just made sense from a marketing standpoint.

Doing so also violated a longstanding written agreement, though, which stipulated that the Commodores name would be forever off limits to former members embarked on new careers.

McClary was instructed on that point several times, following trademark infringement and false advertisement litigation commenced against him by former band founders. Those individuals retained rights to the name owing to an agreement that gave them that power as majority voices operative in the still extant group.

The most recent round of litigation just concluded in a federal circuit court. A judicial panel ruled that, while McClary can make fair use of the band name's registered marks, he must stop short of exploiting the Commodores name for profit in new ventures.

Commentators cite several instructive takeaways from the litigation. Most central is an underscoring of the need for musicians and bands to get a proven entertainment lawyer on board early "to properly document ownership and use of the band's name and any other intellectual property."

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