The Imposters

Poseurs are performing under famous band names, including one with a Houston connection

Ironically, the consequences of Wasservogel's verdict bear little resemblance to his intention. Since no one could legally lay claim to the Ink Spots' name, no one could file suit to prevent another person or group from using it. The name basically became part of the public domain. The Ink Spots, once owned by Kenny, Jones, Fuqua and Watson, is now owned by no one. It's used by anyone who wants it. At one time, according to Ink Spots historian Bill Proctor, there were purportedly at least 40 bands calling themselves the Ink Spots.

Names have simply become potential gold mines. Founding Beach Boy Jardine is embroiled in a court battle over the use of the Beach Boys name with Brother Records International. BRI is owned in equal shares by Jardine, Love, Brian Wilson and the estate of Carl Wilson and owns the Beach Boys trademark. "The company I own is suing me, which is interesting," says Jardine. "I'm paying for a quarter of my own lawsuit. Of course, I'm counterclaiming, which costs me another bundle, so I'm in a rather unique position. They got a restraining order against me from using the name that I helped to create." Love is the only Beach Boy BRI has licensed to use the name. The case is still pending.

While Jardine can't use a name he co-owns, members of the Coasters, the Vogues, the Drifters and the Marvelettes have discovered someone else owns their names. In some cases, the name was allowed to lapse and someone purchased the trademark. Promoter Larry Marshak owns the names the Coasters, the Drifters and the Marvelettes. On any given night he can roll out five groups of Coasters, a few Drifters combos and as many Marvelettes as he wants. He can and does prevent original members of these groups from using the names they made famous. It's legal, though only a lawyer would call it ethical.

Huey Long (bottom left) and the Ink Spots were all smiles before the pretenders tried to claim their thrones.
Huey Long (bottom left) and the Ink Spots were all smiles before the pretenders tried to claim their thrones.

So when all else fails, Congress steps in. Last year Friends Against Musical Exploitation, of which Mary Wilson is a part, gave testimony to the House of Representatives. FAME was helping draw attention to the bipartisan bill for the Truth in Rock Act, which would have allowed "an individual who had been a member of a group under a common famous name" to be able to use that name in the future, regardless of who owns the trademark. The bill died in committee. Wilson says FAME will attempt to get another, more comprehensive version of the bill passed.

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