Real Earth, Wind & Fire Win Trademark Suit Against Fake Earth, Wind & Fire

Music

The real Earth, Wind & Fire have prevailed in a trademark infringement suit against the company’s behind an Earth, Wind & Fire tribute act that promoted itself with “deceptive and misleading” marketing.

The funk legends filed the lawsuit last year against Substantial Music Group and Stellar Communications, which oversaw the tribute band Earth, Wind & Fire Legacy Reunion. While tribute acts have some leeway when it comes to promoting themselves in relation to the act they’re honoring, they cannot suggest any actual affiliation with the original band if none exists. 

The real Earth, Wind & Fire — which continues to tour following the death of founder Maurice White in 2016 — accused Earth, Wind & Fire Legacy Reunion of crossing that line. They said Legacy Reunion tricked fans into thinking they were seeing the real EWF with marketing materials that improperly used copyrights, like the band’s “Phoenix” logo, word mark, and even photos of real EWF members. 

In a ruling issued Monday, March 4, a federal judge in Florida agreed, saying Legacy Reunion’s advertisements “draw a close, unmistakable association with Earth, Wind & Fire to a degree unwarranted by the historical record.” While Legacy Reunion featured some former EWF members and sidemen, the ruling said there was not enough to make clear that the “main (or most prominently known) members” of the band were not involved.

EWF’s original lawsuit also included numerous complaints from fans on social media after they accidentally attended a Legacy Reunion show, thinking they’d paid for the real thing. In his ruling, Judge Federico A. Moreno cited these complaints when determining that Legacy Reunion had caused “actual confusion” among fans.

Monday’s ruling means a jury trial will follow to determine how much Substantial Music Group and Stellar Communications will have to pay Earth, Wind & Fire in damages. The trial is currently set to begin in May.

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One of Earth, Wind & Fire’s lawyers, David Greenbaum, tells Rolling Stone, “My partner Mark Lee and I are pleased that the court agreed with our client’s position on trademark infringement and related claims, granting summary judgment. We await trial on damages.”

A lawyer for Substantial Music Group and Stellar Communications did not immediately return Rolling Stone’s request for comment.

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