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Tuesday, June 4, 2013

Twisted Sister's Twisted Trademark Claim

Posted By on Tue, Jun 4, 2013 at 10:45 AM


Among the many goofy, meat-headed metal bands that proliferated starting in the '70s and stretching way too far into the '90s, few were goofier -- or had meatier heads -- than Twisted Sister.

As if to prove the point, the band -- here in 2013 -- is threatening legal action against a little cafe in Kansas called Twisted Sisters Coffee Shop, claiming trademark infringement.

The cafe, located in Mission, was named for a pair of sisters who had received that nickname from their brother long before the band Twisted Sister uglified MTV (no mean feat, that) with its video for "We're Not Gonna Take It," a "youth rebellion" anthem that, like many of the band's songs, seemed to have been conceived in the conference room of a record label's marketing department.

The band formed in the early '70s, but few outside of New York had heard of them until singer Dee Snider's distasteful visage showed up on television about a decade later just as music video was starting to supplant actual music in the media marketplace. In any case, the Kansas sisters' sibling declared them to be twisted sometime in the '60s. They opened the shop last August.

Initially, the sisters were going to relent under the threat of legal action contained in a letter from a lawyer representing John French, a founder of the band. But after the case started getting media attention, they changed their minds. The band's claim that a coffee shop by that name would cause "dilution" of its trademark and create "confusion among consumers" is patently ridiculous, both logically and legally. As TechDirt's Mike Masnick points out, the band's trademark, issued in 1978, covers only "entertainment services covered by a vocal or instrumental group." Nothing there about a coffee shop. Further, it seems unlikely that anyone is going to think a coffee shop in a small Midwestern town has anything to do with a terrible '80s metal band -- and even if someone did, what would be the harm?

One of the Kansas sisters, Sandi Russell, wrote back to the band's lawyer: "I truly had to go to the site you provided to learn of this band. Sorry. After Elvis, the Beatles and the Beach Boys my love of music leans to country." And: "Right now I am at a loss as to what we could possibly call ourselves that could emulate why we are 'Twisted Sisters Coffee Shop' with our logo of a tornado coming out of a ruby red coffee cup. We are open to Mr. French's ideas for us."

The sisters now have a lawyer working for them pro bono.

It appears that the band's biggest problem isn't with the shop itself, but with the domain name held by the sisters for a web page they aren't even using yet -- and that domain even has "coffeeshop" in it. The shop seems to be relying mainly on its Facebook page for online promotion.

Masnick did some research and found a whole bunch of businesses going by some variation of Twisted Sister, none of which have anything to do with the band.

This is hardly a unique case. Trademarks, like copyrights and patents, have lawyers turning over rocks all over the place desperately searching for billable hours.

In the meantime, Twisted Sister the band seems appropriately moribund. Their last studio album was a collection of Christmas (!) songs in 2006. They still tour, apparently, and have put out some live albums that, presumably, some people actually buy and listen to.

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Dan Mitchell


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