Earth, Wind & Fire Win Trademark Suit Against "Deceptive and Misleading" Tribute Act

BY Calum SlingerlandPublished Mar 4, 2024

Earth, Wind & Fire declared "You're a shining star / No matter who you are" back in 1975, but it's become clear such celestial celebrity excludes EWF tribute acts.

Today, a judge ruled in favour of the funk legends in a trademark infringement lawsuit alleging that an Earth, Wind & Fire tribute act had promoted itself using "deceptive and misleading" marketing.

The suit, filed by the band last year against Substantial Music Group and Stellar Communications, claimed a tribute act named Earth, Wind & Fire Legacy Reunion tricked fans and listeners into thinking they were seeing the real deal in concert.

Tribute acts exclusively covering the music of a specific band or artist are legally allowed to operate so long as they make clear they are purely a tribute act. In the ruling issued today, federal judge Federico A. Moreno found that Legacy Reunion’s advertisements "draw a close, unmistakable association with Earth, Wind & Fire to a degree unwarranted by the historical record," via Rolling Stone.

Earth, Wind & Fire's suit alleged that Legacy Reunion’s advertisements included improper use of copyrights and band iconography, including their "Phoenix" logo, word mark, and even photos of real EWF members.

Rolling Stone notes that even though the Legacy Reunion group featured former EWF members and sidemen, the judges ruling said it was not clear that "main (or most prominently known) members" of the group were not involved.

Most importantly, EWF's lawsuit included numerous complaints published by fans on social media who thought they were attending an actual Earth, Wind & Fire concert — a key to judge Moreno determining that Legacy Reunion had caused "actual confusion" among the public.

Led by longtime members Philip Bailey, Verdine White and Ralph Johnson (seen above), Earth, Wind & Fire have continued touring following the 2016 passing of founder and leader Maurice White.

A jury trial, currently set to begin in May, will now determine how much Substantial Music Group and Stellar Communications will have to pay Earth, Wind & Fire in damages.

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