Live Former Lead Singer Ed Kowalczyk Sued by his Own Band
Once again, we can see how a band breaking up is very similar to a divorce: a lot of quarrelling over assets. However, sometimes it is even worse: they don’t have any pre-nup providing guidance as to how to use a name they once happily shared.
Just like the Beach Boys; the Doors, and Deep Purple (to name a few), the members of 90’s alternative rock group Live are facing off against each other over band name rights.
Since the band broke out in 1994 after the Album “Throwing Copper,” which spent a year on the Billboard 200 album chart before making No. 1, Kowalczyk, the former lead singer, has let the world known that he was still “Alive,” the title of his solo album. Also known for serving as the narrator and Marla in Fight Club with the line “Sir, anything you want is free of charge,” Kowalczyk officially left the band in 2009 when new singer, Chris Shinn, came in. Since then, Kowalczyk has kept using the band’s name, touring as “Ed Kowalczyk of Live”.
The other band members, Chad Taylor (lead guitar), Patrick Dahlheimer (bass), and Chad Gracey (drums) are not technically the ones suing—Action Front Unlimited, the company that was set up by the band members and now holds the groups trademark, is bringing the suit. According to a lawsuit filed in New York Federal Court, each of the member of Live has an equal share in the company. The band members formed the company in 1989 “to furnish their services as a rock band. . . Since the company’s incorporation, each of the four band members has been a 25% shareholder and director of [Action Front Unlimited].”
So now Action Front Unlimited, Kowalczyk’s own company, is accusing him of failing to inform the public that he is no longer a member of Live and that his solo music isn’t endorsed by the band. According to the lawsuit, Kowalczyk is deceiving booking agents, theaters, arenas, and the press into thinking Kowalczyk is still affiliated with the group. Action Front Unlimited is seeking an injunction as well as $2 million in statutory damages for claims of trademark infringement, false designation of origin, and trademark dilution.
The sources of Action Front Unlimited’s claims date to 2005, according to a separate lawsuit filed in May 2010 in New York. In that filing, Dahlheimer, Gracey, and Taylor allege that Kowalczyk and the band’s longtime manager, David Levin, violated terms of a contract. The 2010 filing alleges that “in 2005, Kowalczyk presented the plaintiffs with an ultimatum: Kowalczyk would leave the group unless the plaintiffs agreed to give him . . . sole writing credit for all songs embodied on future Live albums.” The filing states that Dahlheimer, Gracey, and Taylor agreed to Kowalczyk’s terms “out of respect for their decades-long friendship . . . and because the plaintiffs placed a high value on keeping the classic lineup of Live together.” Kowalczyk was to pay the other three members a percentage of an advance and publishing income, which allegedly he still hasn’t done. Dahlheimer, Gracey, and Taylor repeatedly demanded to be paid in full, but Levin said they were not entitled to the money. They then terminated Levin as a business manager and, in 2009, parted ways with Kowalczyk, who began his solo career.
The outcome of such a case often depends on who has continuously exploited the band name and who is recognized by the public as holding the greatest claim to the mark, but the nature of the business partnership can also have an impact. Fans of both Live and Ed Kowalczyk are anxiously awaiting the outcome of the lawsuit. Some of the original Live fans are undoubtedly hopeful that the parties will reconcile and maybe even reunite, but they shouldn’t keep their hopes up. According to Taylor, the lawsuit was last resort: “We have exhausted every effort known to man to try and reach some sort of peaceful accord with Ed. The legal drama pales in comparison to the personal nature and disappointment of losing a childhood friend.”