Spiraling out through Tool's lawsuits
October 8, 2014 12:53 PM   Subscribe

Earlier this year, a Rolling Stone interview with Tool guitarist Adam Jones and drummer Danny Carey revealed the legal trouble that has prevented the band from producing an album since 2006's 10,000 Days.

It concerns copyright claims by visual artist Cam De Leon, who created iconic Tool-related works like the wrench logo and Smoke Box, which features on the cover of the album Ænima. Trademark Nerd provides a thorough summary of the court dockets and filings so far.

Fortunately for fans, Jones and Carey have confirmed that the band is actively working on a new album.
posted by neushoorn (39 comments total) 12 users marked this as a favorite
Wow, what a headache. Still, it sounds like they're not legally prevented from releasing a new album, they're just too wrapped in the suits to concentrate on producing one.

Aenima was probably the most formative album of my youth, and the artwork/packaging is still incredible.
posted by Existential Dread at 1:02 PM on October 8, 2014 [4 favorites]

De Leon claimed that since he didn’t sign a work-for-hire agreement, he was the copyright owner of those works, and that any copyright licenses he granted to Tool for those works were revocable and limited in time and scope...De Leon allegedly terminated the licenses in June 2005.

Yeah, fuck those guys for hiring you and making your work famous and making it possible for you to make a pile of money selling prints and shirts on your site. Who the hell do they think they are.
posted by echo target at 1:12 PM on October 8, 2014 [4 favorites]

Can't Maynard just put the guy in a headlock until he cries "uncle"?
posted by bondcliff at 1:16 PM on October 8, 2014 [2 favorites]

Sort of destroys the mystique that they haven't put out an album because they just don't feel like it.
posted by Renoroc at 1:17 PM on October 8, 2014 [1 favorite]

Yeah, fuck those guys for hiring you and making your work famous

Right? If they make you famous, your legal rights should disappear just like that! How dare he desire anything but more fame and more money, this is America! And if there's one thing destroying this paradise of just and equitable treatment of artists, it's those artists just having too much darn control over their work!
posted by DGStieber at 1:29 PM on October 8, 2014 [16 favorites]

Man, that wrench logo looks just like a cock and balls. Edgy!
posted by thelonius at 1:34 PM on October 8, 2014 [9 favorites]

The dude's basically a patent troll, just in a different context. He unilaterally decided new terms for their contract ten to fifteen years after they originally hired him. I'm not saying he has no case; we don't know the details and I'm sure he found some legal wrinkle or ambiguity to exploit. I'm saying it's a pretty shitty thing to do to a guy who was apparently a good friend before all this.
posted by echo target at 1:35 PM on October 8, 2014 [1 favorite]

Interesting that the real dispute is now basically an insurance coverage fight. The underlying lawsuit over the copyright issues settled in 2007.
posted by monju_bosatsu at 1:49 PM on October 8, 2014 [4 favorites]

echo target: "The dude's basically a patent troll, just in a different context."

Words mean things.
posted by boo_radley at 1:56 PM on October 8, 2014 [12 favorites]

Talk about putting the cart before the horse. Does the artist think that there would have been any particular market for this artwork other than album covers and merch for a specific '90s alt-metal band? It's not like Tool was holding him back from greater success that he could have had with his art alone.
posted by Strange Interlude at 1:59 PM on October 8, 2014 [1 favorite]

"Right? If they make you famous, your legal rights should disappear just like that! How dare he desire anything but more fame and more money, this is America!"

Yeah, I agree with your sarcastic comment but, in this particular case, I think that it's reasonable that all involved, at the time, would have thought of his work for them as work for hire, even if it actually wasn't. Why wouldn't Tool think they owned the artwork he'd produced for them and that they could continue to use it? Similarly, I would maybe have thought they'd expect him to be able to sell it himself, too. So that implies they should have worked out a formal contract early on.

They didn't and maybe when the artist discovered that he really continued to own the works and that he could control whether Tool continued to use them and, yeah, that they were making a lot of money, I can also see him using that leverage in his own self-interest. Basically, that whole thing should never have ended up as a lawsuit, they should have just come to some agreement. Tool should have responded to his lawsuit with an immediate settlement.

And they did end that whole thing in mediation. That's not the suit that's causing all the ongoing problems.

The problem suit is that Tool's insurer decided that their policy didn't cover this particular defense against the artist's lawsuit. And the policy had some clauses that makes this very arguable. But Tool, having that policy -- which maybe factored in why they didn't just settle with the artist, thinking they could just fight it out and it would be covered by their insurance -- fought a legal battle with accumulating legal fees that they billed to the insurance company, which didn't pay them, and so quite a bit of money ended up being at stake.

I don't know why they thought fighting with their insurer, and then countersuing, would be a good idea. Surely this whole thing has cost them more money cumulatively in terms of time and opportunity cost, even if they win this case, than it would have cost them to just pay the legal fees for the original suit out of their pocket. Or, best, not get into an extended legal battle with the artist in the first place and just settle.

Nobody looks particularly good in this, in my view.
posted by Ivan Fyodorovich at 1:59 PM on October 8, 2014 [5 favorites]

They can always call their next album Jarndyce and Jarndyce.
posted by TheWhiteSkull at 2:06 PM on October 8, 2014 [9 favorites]

Wouldn't the band's popularity and his apparent (past) friendship with them put him in an excellent bargaining position when negotiating future deals? Like asking for a higher percentage on merchandising (or whatever)? A new Tool record is guaranteed to move a few copies, then there's the tour and the t-shirts and (presumably) knife-dildos and the like. Seems like he knife-dildoed himself in the foot.
posted by turbid dahlia at 2:58 PM on October 8, 2014 [6 favorites]

Man, reading this case kinda reminds me of Tom Morello's recent douchestorm in Seattle, in that folks I thought were cool and independent in high school have turned into really gross adults. Or maybe they're gross now that i'm an adult. Everyone looks bad in this story, like comrade Fyodorovich said upthread.
posted by DGStieber at 3:39 PM on October 8, 2014

They would have so many thousands of fractions of pennies from me to fight their lawsuits with if they'd just put their danged albums on Spotify. And tell their friends in King Crimson to do the same.

Effing prog metalers, amirite?
posted by elr at 4:15 PM on October 8, 2014 [2 favorites]

I don't think De Leon is involved with this present litigation at all. Which is good because it means everyone can just agree on hating the insurers, like all right-thinking people do.
posted by howfar at 4:17 PM on October 8, 2014 [1 favorite]

Tool is the only band I'm aware of where each album is better than the last.
So fucking put out another one already!
posted by signal at 5:01 PM on October 8, 2014

"I'm saying it's a pretty shitty thing to do to a guy who was apparently a good friend before all this."

Apparently they've reconciled. So it seems like they're friends after it too. (Which honestly makes me wonder if it was Zoo playing hardball that made the lawsuit necessary.)
posted by klangklangston at 5:46 PM on October 8, 2014

Can't Maynard just put the guy in a headlock until he cries "uncle"?

Hardly. You must have him confused, with Eugene S. Robinson...
posted by littlejohnnyjewel at 6:44 PM on October 8, 2014

After reading this I'm glad I didn't hire De Leon to do some game art for me...
posted by The Power Nap at 6:47 PM on October 8, 2014

My favorite Tool fact: the last time they played the Bill Graham in SF, the volume was down at a non-earsplitting level and you could actually HEAR the music. Victory for team-tinitus! *FISTBUMPS ASS AROUND* Srsly, those of us behind the bars in the auditorium were all stunned, BC we're used to everything-on-11 as SOP. Was pretty cool.

Also, they don't wear laminates backstage. There was a sheet with headshots of the band members up at every doorway with a guard "THESE GUYS DO NOT NEED LAMINATES" language. Whatever,
posted by Pirate-Bartender-Zombie-Monkey at 8:33 PM on October 8, 2014 [2 favorites]

I don't wish poverty on anyone, but there are many times I wish a band/musician were in a financial position such that they needed to make more music to keep paying the bills.

I also don't want to discount how stressful and problematic years and years of litigation are, but the same part of me as above is thinking that when you're not far from 10 years since your last album, it's an awfully convenient excuse to not have to ship.
posted by chimaera at 8:39 PM on October 8, 2014

Yeah, this has nothing to do with an album non-release. It's just a convenient excuse they came up with so the overzealous crazed Tool fans will leave them alone. Tool fans are the worst. They've probably already combed through the lawsuit documents and figured out how they're all part of a giant Fibonacci sequence.
posted by naju at 9:18 PM on October 8, 2014 [3 favorites]

it sounds like they're not legally prevented from releasing a new album, they're just too wrapped in the suits to concentrate on producing one.

Yeah, IANAE, but that interview didn't totally explain why they haven't released an album. The lawyers are doing all the work ... it's not like these dudes are filing briefs and shit.
posted by mrgrimm at 9:34 PM on October 8, 2014

All I know is when I saw Tool earlier this year on their rather limited US tour, they did a version of the song Lateralus that was so mindblowingly good, so incredibly intense, was so involving for the crowd, that when the final note was hit and the song and light and projection show ended, there was an entirely palpable lifting of energy up and out of the arena that was so powerful it nearly took my breath away.

And then the screen showed "Intermission -- 19:59... 58... 57..."

It's like, they could have ended the show RIGHT THERE and everyone would have been ecstatic, but no, they go and do THAT TOTALLY AMAZING THING and then tell us they will be back shortly to do more.

Never miss a Tool show. Never ever ever.
posted by hippybear at 10:59 PM on October 8, 2014

> '90s alt-metal band?

Whose two most successful releases were in the 2000's.
posted by GallonOfAlan at 12:38 AM on October 9, 2014

I love Tool. Like a lot, however, the joke, "What's the worst thing about Tool? Their fans" is totally true. So first off, if they are using this litigation stuff as an excuse, I am 100% fine with that. Because first off, they aren't obligated to put a new album ever. Secondly, some Tool fans have such a rabid sense of entitlement.

I would do some questionable things for a new Tool album, but neither I nor anyone else on this planet are entitled to a new album. So for all I care Tool can say they haven't made a new album because of Deranged Purple Space Slugs.

FWIW, I actually believe them about the lawsuit wearing them down. While I wasn't personally involved, I have been very close with people going through litigation and that stuff is NERVE WRACKING. Plus, this isn't some pop band that gets handed a music sheet and records a few songs then goes out to the club. This is a band that is very proud and protective of their art and they aren't going to throw together some album just to keep cranking them out. This is a group of very talented musicians and I imagine the talent is palpable when they are working.
posted by Twain Device at 4:33 AM on October 9, 2014 [1 favorite]

unpopular opinion time, undertow is superior to anything they released after.
posted by nadawi at 7:38 AM on October 9, 2014 [1 favorite]

nadawi, I prefer Lateralus, but I will say that Undertow is criminally underrated.
posted by Twain Device at 8:16 AM on October 9, 2014 [1 favorite]

nadawi, I prefer the songwriting of Aenima (only by a hair), but in my opinion the production and performance of Undertow is the best I've ever heard. The layers, the fact that it's not compressed within an inch of it's life, that you actually can use the volume knob to bring the volume up rather than having all the levels maxed, that super eerie guitar tone, the overtones and harmonics in the bass, the phenomenal drums, and Maynard's hands-down best performance. Plus the anger and smart-ass humor.
posted by Existential Dread at 8:27 AM on October 9, 2014 [1 favorite]

I'm vehemently anti-copyright, but.. We're talking one dude vs a behemoth music label here. Cam De Leon is nowhere near as bad as a patent troll. He just had the sense not to sign away what little rights copyright law gives actual artists, as opposed to publishers.

Tool could've simply kept rolling along after changing the logo and art. A new logo is infinitely easier than working around some dumb ass software patent.

I'd wager the real issue is more Tool's contract with their label, either directly or indirectly. Ya know, maybe they didn't feel as inspired once they realized almost all the money goes into gangster's pockets, happens.

Also, all creative folk produce mediocre work sometimes, either publish it and let history be the judge, or stroke your ego by hiding it away.
posted by jeffburdges at 8:46 AM on October 9, 2014

Yeah, I don't fully buy the lawsuit excuse either. How does it actually involve the musicians themselves, other than giving some depositions? Sure, it might add some stress, but shit. You could get married and divorced twice in eight years and not stop going to your 9-to-5.
posted by gottabefunky at 9:28 AM on October 9, 2014

but if you were still getting a paycheck? would you still show up to your 9-5 for a bonus?
posted by nadawi at 9:37 AM on October 9, 2014

It's worth observing that musicians' 9-to-5 is actually playing tours, which hippybear suggests they kept doing. Almost all the album money goes into the label's pocket.

In fact, there are scenarios in which intransigence on the part of an artist like Cam De Leon actually makes the band money by allowing them to negotiate a new contract as a new but already famous band.
posted by jeffburdges at 9:54 AM on October 9, 2014

I haven't followed them much in recent years but I had the impression (from a friend who's still a huge fan) that Maynard was more or less done with the band, wanting to focus on Puscifer and his vineyard. It makes sense as a casual observer - Puscifer can be pretty fun and adventurous, and according to said friend Maynard has really lightened up and wants to move away from the heavy music / dark lyric aspect of Tool.

But then I had no idea they had been touring recently, so that's probably a bad read on the situation. Though they do mention in the article that it's the three other members working on the new material and sending it off for him to work on the vocals.
posted by mannequito at 7:05 PM on October 9, 2014

mannequito: I've read interviews with Maynard within the past couple of years where he outlines how Tool works: the three instrumentalists are so avid about the music that they make that it takes them ages to work out exactly what they want it to be and how they want to assemble it, so they do all the basic composition without him being involved. Then there comes some give and take between him as he creates lyrics and the rest of the band as they see how the lyrics are shaped.

If you look at Tool's most recent couple of albums, they really are not the dark seething of the first two. Lataralus is nearly a spiritual guidebook toward finding peace and enlightenment (especially if you sequence it in the "Holy Gift" track order), and 10,000 Days is a personal exploration into loss and death and lessons that can be learned from it.

And Tool has been touring basically every year in various parts of the world.

So I don't think Maynard is distancing himself from Tool. Rather, he's trying find a way to stay creative in his own right while he waits for his mystical musician friends to figure out how to channel whatever deep muse they hear whispering to them.

And I do buy the idea that all these legal problems are keeping them from getting work done toward that end. The whisper of a muse can easily be drowned out by the clamor of the world.
posted by hippybear at 7:19 PM on October 9, 2014 [2 favorites]

"And I do buy the idea that all these legal problems are keeping them from getting work done toward that end."

I was going to comment earlier, but didn't get around to it 'till now, that the Trademark Nerd blog linked to in the post seems to be written by a lawyer or someone involved in the law and that person, from the detailed rundown of the case, says something like this particular case would be one that would demand a lot of actual individual attention from the band members. I don't know why, though.
posted by Ivan Fyodorovich at 7:54 PM on October 9, 2014

On the latest tour Adam Jones had an extensive meet and greet with VIP ticket buyers that I attended. He did not say it was the specific reason they had not finished the album but he did say that they are in a major dispute with their record label now. Their existing contract does not specifically state who gets revenue from digital sales. He said that they would love to allow digital sales but their record label says the label is entitled to 100% of the proceeds and Tool obviously disagrees.

I believe that this would be a major reason not to release new material. They know that now most sales of new material is digital downloads and few people are going to buy actual CD's
posted by Justin Case at 3:44 PM on October 10, 2014

But half the fun of a new Tool album is getting the physical product, because they always do such cool things with it.
posted by hippybear at 2:32 AM on October 11, 2014

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