What does LL Cool J and Guerilla Union have in common? Well apparently, it’s the use of the term “Rock the Bells” in conjunction with their musical works. James Todd Smith, the American hip-hop recording artist more commonly known by his stage name LL Cool J, filed a lawsuit on Tuesday against the Guerilla Union, Inc., the company that produces the ‘Rock the Bells’ music festival.
The grounds for the lawsuit are trademark infringement, and in the complaint, which was obtained by Rolling Stone, LL Cool J alleges that Guerilla Union used the phrase “Rock the Bells” without his consent. LL Cool J’s ‘Rock the Bells’ was his third single released from his debut album titled ‘Radio.’ He also has a classic hip-hop music channel on Sirius XM, which he’s branded with the term ‘Rock the Bells.’
The Queens, New York-born rapper also claims that by using the term, that music fans would be confused as to whether he is a part of, endorses, or serves as one of the festival’s producers. Additionally, he claims that by using the term ‘Rock the Bells’ in a URL link, that the festival organizers committed cyber piracy. The rapper also makes allegations of ‘false designation of origin affiliation or association,’ and claims that using the phrase qualifies as “unfair competition” and is an act of fraud.
The rapper filed several applications with the USPTO to trademark the phrase between 2014 and 2018, and also launched his Rock the Bells radio channel last March. His trademarks include “Rock the Bells Radio” (see U.S. Serial No. 87415875 and 87415930), “Rock the Bells Music Group” (see U.S. Serial No. 86488674 and 86488672), and several applications (at least seven that we were able to locate) pending review from the USPTO of the mark “Rock the Bells”.
Guerilla Union has tried to trademarked the phrase on at least 3 previous occasions from 2004-2008, however, as of today, the USPTO has designated all of those marks as dead due to different reasons (see U.S. Reg. No. 3052465, U.S. Reg. No. 3623506, and U.S. Reg. No. 3917468). Guerilla Union first premiered their Rock the Bells music festival in 2004, and then held it again in California for the next two years, as well as every year since then until 2013.
The rapper is seeking several things which include, among other claims for relief:
- (1) An injunction from the court to stop the festival from using the phrase in any manner, which includes printing merchandise with the phrase on it;
- (2) Recognition by the court of his “Rock the Bells” trademark as valid;
- (3) An order from the court to the festival organizers, requiring them to deliver any unused merchandise with the phrase on it to the rapper for their destruction;
- (4) The transfer of the rights to the festival’s URL and social media accounts (i.e. the rockthebells.net website and the @rockthebells social media handles) to him;
- (5) A demand that Guerilla Union deliver any and all profits garnered from the use of the phrase;
- (6) Treble (three times) compensatory damages and punitive damages; and
- (7) Attorney’s fees.
Some sources theorize that since the USPTO has disacknowledged the trademarks of the phrase belonging to Guerilla Union (as well as those that belong to Rock the Bells Entertainment, Inc. [see U.S. Serial No. 75617062 and U.S. Serial No. 76201954]), LL Cool J is most likely filing the lawsuit now in order to establish his claim on the mark. This would seem highly likely since it has been reported that last year, LL Cool J filed a petition to cancel Guerilla’s “Rock the Bells” trademarks on the grounds that the mark had been fraudulently obtained, in addition to being abandoned; that petition was granted in his favor, without any appeal from Guerilla Union, and since the ruling, LL Cool J has proceeded to file his own trademark application for use of the phrase.
The complaint was filed in the U.S. District Court for the Central District of California. The case No. is 2:18-cv-9902. You can check out the complaint here.