A DISCUSSION OF LAW AND JOURNALISM

Tag: The Vandals

Variety’s Logo “Vandalized”

By Matthew Catania and Dawn L. Mikulastik

Contrary to popular opinion, settlement agreements don’t always end litigation. Exhibit A: Reed Elsevier Inc., Variety’s parent company, is suing the Californian punk band, The Vandals, despite the parties’ settlement in 2004. The dispute began when the media conglomerate took umbrage at The Vandals invoking its trademark Variety logo on the cover of its “Hollywood Potato Chip” album. (The title is a vulgar reference to dried semen left on a Hollywood casting couch) The Vandals settled out of court, agreeing to pay $2,500.00 and to eradicate all traces of the offending cover art. But now Reed Elsevier is suing the band again, this time because it believes the terms of the settlement have been breached.

In December 2009, Reed Elsevier claims it discovered the prohibited image on some websites that it alleges were controlled by the band. In February, the newsgroup’s lawyers informed the band that it was in breach and owed $50,000.00 in liquidated damages and $25,000.00 lawyers’ fees as mandated by the settlement. The band was also asked to sign an amended settlement agreement without a provision for a “cure period” and liquidated damages of $100,000.00 for the next violation.

True to its punk rock ethos, The Vandals refused to this lying down. Statements to the press and fans by Joe Escalante, the Vandals’ bassist and its attorney, have stressed that the original album art is protected by the First Amendment as parody.  And while that may be true, it’s actually irrelevant to the case at hand.  The media is mischaracterizing the current lawsuit as a free speech issue. Because the band signed the settlement agreement rather than litigating the underlying issue six years ago, only contractual issues arising from that document are up for dispute. (more…)

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