Journalist Bill Wyman threatened with legal action for having same name as Rolling Stones member
November 17, 2002 1:08 PM   Subscribe

Okay, I was about to go ballistic with the way you phrased this, but I made the correct move that is mistakenly forgotten by many of actually reading the article.

This isn't the same thing as J.Lo not giving a damn that Glow is already a cosmetics company or Celine Dion thinking she's more important than the band that carries the name she wants to give her Vegas show. The journalist is writing columns in the newspaper about a band in which he shares the name of one of the members. How can one NOT argue that without any disclaimer there's a high chance for confusion here?

If a guy named Bill Clinton wrote an article in my local newspaper about his opinions on a proposal to build a new strip club in the county, the paper would be damned sure to note that they weren't printing a letter from the former president.
posted by XQUZYPHYR at 1:17 PM on November 17, 2002

feh, what a buncha worry-warts. if anyone should be worried about names getting confused it should be john carpenter, film fella, and john carpenter, pervert.
posted by Peter H at 1:23 PM on November 17, 2002

Journalist Bill Wyman explains his predicament. He was actually receiving the musician's royalty checks!
posted by Frank Grimes at 1:26 PM on November 17, 2002

XQ, this isn't just some guy named Bill Wyman. This is a guy who has been writing music criticism (under that name, his own) for more than 20 years. I think he has a right to consider it an established trademark (if we're going to talk in those terms). Whether or not there's "a high chance for confusion" (always a risk when you read music criticism anyway), surely you aren't arguing that this isn't an absurd lawsuit?
posted by languagehat at 1:29 PM on November 17, 2002

...the paper would be damned sure to note that they weren't printing a letter from the former president

It might be polite/helpful to note it, XQUZYPHYR, but arguing that they'd have a legal obligation to do so? I don't think so.

Btw, stevenf, this might have been a stronger post if you'd included the Atlanta Bill Wyman's column (here's what looks like a more permanent link). It is a little frustrating that he doesn't mention what he plans to do next, or if he's ever included a disclaimer in the past when he wrote about the Stones.
posted by mediareport at 1:33 PM on November 17, 2002

Bill Wyman the journalist was born with the name.

The musician Bill Wyman was NOT born with it, but adopted it in place of his real name.

Just sayin'.
posted by konolia at 1:39 PM on November 17, 2002

To start, there is no lawsuit, there's a threat of one. Cease and Desist letters are threats to sue, and since a majority of them are complied with thus negating future lawsuits, there's a big difference.

That said, my point is that it might be an absurd lawsuit if filed (which it won't) but it's far from an absurd demand. If your sole argument is that the journalist Wyman has been a writer for over 20 years, keep in mind that the musician Bill Wyman joined the Stones in 1962... so who's claiming first dibs on the name recognition, exactly?

There's an obvious conflict of interest here, being that a casual reader of a music column might get the idea that a musician was writing about his own band... how is this an "absurd" notion?

I'm not saying I support it, but I fully understand how a particular column, if basing any opinion, could easily by means of confusion affect the musician Wyman's reputation. A C&D letter is far from absurd; it's the most practical step in the musician Wyman's eyes, as well as the eyes of any other business entity that wants to stop someone from doing something that might be bad for their own business.
posted by XQUZYPHYR at 1:40 PM on November 17, 2002

And konolia, I don't see the "real name" argument as plausible. If you named your kid Cher at birth, the fact that it's her "real name" doesn't give her the right to claim ignorance in a case of name confusion if she suddenly starts a music-related career under that name.

Again, I'm not saying I agree with it, I'm just stating the usual case: most times, the famous person wins in situations like this simply because they are famous. It doesn't matter if your name is Starbucks or McDonald, odds are the big guys are going to fight to strip your ability to profit off it.
posted by XQUZYPHYR at 1:46 PM on November 17, 2002

A C&D letter is far from absurd; it's the most practical step in the musician Wyman's eyes

A C&D letter *is* absurd; it's a clear example of lawyers using ridiculously heavy-handed tactics when simple human decency would do. Here's an idea: instead of a stupidly aggressive C&D letter, how about a thank you for the coverage and a polite request to use some sort of disclaimer in the future? Couple it with a small goodwill gift to acknowledge asking a favor of a journalist and his editors if you must. But a C&D letter as your first approach is rude, dumb from a PR standpoint and legally questionable at best to boot. In short: absurd.
posted by mediareport at 1:51 PM on November 17, 2002

Mediareport, many lawyers feel that a cease and desist order is, necessarily, the first communication. This is because trademark rights are inherently subject to aggressive defense of their exclusivity. You can be "polite" in enforcing patents and copyrights, you simply cannot be "polite" in enforcing trademarks, because politeness could well be construed as an admission that you lack legal rights.

As unpleasant as it is, Bill Wyman staked his claim to that name in the music business in 1962 or so ... and that's what matters.
posted by MattD at 1:55 PM on November 17, 2002

Surely the "it's not that Bill Wyman" rider, as suggested here, ought to do the trick? Did Wyman mention the Wyman/Wyman issue when he wrote the original review, as might well have been proper? (Usually journalists indicate whether or not there's a relationship when a subject shares their name.)

Wasn't there a recent controversy about the "McDonald's" name somewhere--in the UK?--when a real McDonald tried to use the name for his store/restaraunt/whatever it was?
posted by thomas j wise at 2:05 PM on November 17, 2002

many lawyers feel that a cease and desist order is, necessarily, the first communication.

And many lawyers *don't* feel that way, MattD. My understanding of "aggressive defence of exclusivity" is that you have to quickly deal with each and every instance of possible infringement as soon as it comes to your attention. But *how* you deal with those instances is another matter entirely. Going after Wyman - a man who's obviously been on at least casually good terms with the band in the past - with a C&D as a first move is the mark of a dick. That behavior was certainly not required to protect trademark rights in this instance.
posted by mediareport at 2:12 PM on November 17, 2002

The Rolling Stone's Bill Wyman wasn't even born with that name. His given name is William George Perks, and he adopted his stage name in admiration for a man he had known named Lee Whyman. from the article.

This is ludicrous. And what would keep the journalist from suing the musician for HIS use of the name?
posted by konolia at 2:13 PM on November 17, 2002

The first time that I read an article by Bill Wyman, it was about the Rolling Stones, and it appeared in a New Times Weekly with no explanation that this was not "that" Bill Wyman. It did leave me wondering if Wyman, who was no longer with the Stones, was writing about them.
So there.
posted by 2sheets at 2:16 PM on November 17, 2002

This sounds like a good topic for Michael Jackson.
posted by dogwelder at 2:31 PM on November 17, 2002

If he's writing about the Rolling Stones he should have a disclaimer.
posted by stbalbach at 2:43 PM on November 17, 2002

This guy's been writing about music for 20 years, including multiple articles about the Stones. Isn't there something equivalent to a statute of limitations in this kind of thing? After all, isn't leaving the writer be for 20 years a clear sign of non-enforcement of a trademark? Also, did the musician actually trademark his name? And if so, isn't that beyonf weird?
posted by billsaysthis at 3:15 PM on November 17, 2002


Something similar happened earlier on this year in New Zealand. Fran Walsh -- Peter Jackson's partner and screenwriter of the LOTR trilogy -- threatened to sue the Listener (a local weekly magazine) claiming damages and costs, as well as an apology and retraction, after it published an article on the local film industry by journalist Frances Walsh.

Walsh claimed that the magazine deliberately misled readers by including the word 'Lord' in the article's title, and publishing stills from the LOTR films to accompany it.

I guess she had a point, but the way the whole thing was handled didn't generate much good will for the Jacksons (at least outside their impregnable Wellington stronghold).
posted by Sonny Jim at 3:30 PM on November 17, 2002

Entertainment lawyers are wonderful creatures. No really.
Without them, the big labels would have no option but to dumbly guess at the most effective method of coercing artists. The lawyer's give the musicians a sense of being protected and represented.

You can be damned sure that the time that the lawyer charged for writing this letter adds up to more than the reporter ever got in ill-gotten (and ultimately returned) checks...
posted by Busithoth at 3:42 PM on November 17, 2002

Bill Wyman staked his claim to that name in the music business in 1962 or so
How do you figure that? As far as I can see, 'The Rolling Stones' staked the claim to their name, not any of the replaceable (and replaced) individuals who happened to be cast members of the group at that time.
posted by HTuttle at 3:49 PM on November 17, 2002

dolgwelder: You a beer fan? We could have a big legal menage a trois if any of the various Michael Jacksons' lawyers are reading this thread.
posted by boredomjockey at 4:53 PM on November 17, 2002

Y'know, this reminds me... I was named for my great uncle, but my middle initial was different. My cousin named his son the same way. Only he has the same first and last names, *AND* the same middle initial as me. (His middle is Albert; I'm Anthony).

He's a talented performer, and is now attending Juliard.

I already have to turn away old flames and requests for guest performances ("Sure, but will you pay the airfare for my tuba?" "TUBA?!?" "Oh, you want the OTHER Xxx A. Xxxxx. Here's his number...")

Will the day come when his entertainment lawyer send me a bigfoot letter? I doubt it. But there are going to be other times and other people where such things can't be kept "in the family".
posted by willconsult4food at 5:29 PM on November 17, 2002

ok, here goes:

Bill Wyman the writer was born with his name. He chooses to write. he owes fuck-all to anyone about disclaimers about his name.

bill wyman the musician changed his name. he chose his name. choices have consequences, don't they?

i don't care when all this happened in the scheme of things, one had the freedom to make a choice and accept possible consequences (however ludicrous they are, and this is definitely ludicrous). the other is signing his name to his articles. maybe he hopes more people pay attention to him because of his name, but who's to take that away from him? if you're lucky enough to garner the nickname KILLER, its your choice to include that as part of your name if you publish something, and part of the reason you would choose it would be so more people would read you. is this really that complicated?

i don't think so, and if i were the bill wyman (ne "bill wyman"), i'd be laughing my ass off and throwing that C&D letter in the trash.
posted by oog at 5:36 PM on November 17, 2002

Bill Wyman (the journo) needs to make no disclaimers. He merely needs to state on every article that he has written professionally as a journo for x years, in and around the x area. That is positive, and avoids confusion.

Bill Wyman (the*cough*musician*cough*) should remember: the Stones borrowed their name, and indeed it was borrowed again by His Bobness when the classic 'Like A Washed Up White BluesMan' was a hit for him in 1965.
posted by dash_slot- at 5:54 PM on November 17, 2002

There are bad precedents for this. Taylor Wine used to be a family-owned winery in the the NY Fingerlakes region. When the business was sold to the Coca-Cola company, they sucessfully stopped another winery, Bully Hill, owned by a Taylor family member, from putting his name on the bottle anywhere. At first, black magic marker was used to cover the last name. After that, bottles with "Walter S. ________" were sold. Your name may not be yours after all.
posted by tommasz at 6:02 PM on November 17, 2002

WillConsult: Dunno if you're into British comedies or not, but your situation reminded me of an episode of "The Vicar of Dibley", in which the small English town hires "Reginald Dwight" to play the town fair. Since Reginald Dwight is the given name of Elton John, they think they have a score, but instead they get a somwhat frumpy guy who plays sax or something like that; certainly not Elton John. Anyway, he takes the gig, and it's funny as hell...
posted by ehintz at 6:15 PM on November 17, 2002

Surprised nobody's linked yet to Bill Wyman (journalist) interviewed by All Things Considered. He's taking it pretty lightly; the one part that annoys him is that it's his real name, and merely a stage name for the musician. He doesn't have any intention of complying.
posted by dhartung at 6:20 PM on November 17, 2002

No more should he...not only is the (preposterous) practice of believing that a C&D letter (which contains, by definition, a demand) is an appropriate way to try to get such a trifling matter solved, it's far from clear to me that Bill Wyman the performer would have any right to demand anything from Bill Wyman the journalist, even if he hadn't chosen the name himself.

This isn't, after all, a trademark action. Wyman-the-guitarist isn't Bill Wyman®, is he? Nor is it the case that the U.S.-based Wyman is advertising his services as a musician. It just sounds absolutely nuts to think that trademark protections of names would extend to this. (I think, tommasz, the situation you describe is one which exists precisely because of competition selling a particular product -- like the Ray's Pizza lawsuits here in NYC). Am I off base?

Now, there might be a question of journalistic ethics here -- implied in many of the above posts, which suggest that Wyman the writer has an obligation to his readers to address a predictable source of confusion. But would Wyman-the-musician have any legal standing at all to "demand" such a thing from him? I can't see it.
posted by BT at 8:16 PM on November 17, 2002

I did a quick search on the US Patent and Trademark Office web site and, assuming the database is complete, THAT Bill Wyman doesn't seem to be registered as a trademark.

Legal significance? I dunno.
posted by ligeia at 9:12 PM on November 17, 2002

It's probably not a Trademark issue per se. Names are rarely trademarked, unless they are the name of a company (i.e. "Mrs. Field's cookies.") Plus, a trademark would restrict a person from using his or her name at all (for instance, on business cards) - so what they try to sue under is usually a private action of a "right of privacy or publicity." A few states like California have actual statutes on this, but most places it's common-law.
There is also a right to control commercial exploitation of name or likeness. This is a property right. Most courts ignore this concept, but several jurisdictions have begun to recognize this property right ancillary to the right of privacy, usually involving persons who have developed a famous persona because of their exploits. It usually arises in cases bought by heirs of a famous deceased person, such as Elvis Presley. The right to privacy is a personal right which dies with the individual, but the right of publicity does not necessarily. In some states, it may be pass to heirs. But only if deceased had attempted to exploit this right while alive. They had to have capitalized on fame to create a property right to pass on to heirs.
But the general common sense idea is similar to trademark: is the person trying to confuse people or somehow profit from the famous name? Here - obviously not. I mean, come on, Bill Wyman? The bloke hasn't even been in the Stones for a decade, and has hardly burned up the charts on his own. In fact, I bet more readers of the Atlanta paper know "Bill Wyman" as the journalist rather than the musician.
These kind of letters are sent out once in a while by lawyers trying to make a quick buck and CYA. Legally, they mean absolutely nothing at all.
posted by sixdifferentways at 11:48 PM on November 17, 2002

The phrase, "Be careful what you ask for, you just might get it," comes to mind.

A cease and desist order runs the risk of backfiring, and this one is no exception. It would possibly be a lot of fun writing disclaimers to a column.

One potential disclaimer...

By Bill Wyman, Je ne suis pas une Rock Star
posted by bragadocchio at 1:00 AM on November 18, 2002

If Wyman joined the Stones in 1962 and the other Wyman has been an 'established journalist' for 20 years, why is this just now coming to a head?
posted by jono at 2:19 AM on November 18, 2002

Since when do people have a "right" not to be confused or misled by what they read in print? I can understand seeing that byline and wondering if it were the ex-band member, but automatically assuming that it is would just be foolish. Without a little skepticism, we are all patsies. If not knowing really bothered a person, then it seems to me that it is incumbent upon THEM to do the further research necessary to find out for sure. Sure, it would be nice for the magazine to print a disclaimer clearing things up, but I fail to see how they are in any way obligated to do so.

First they take away our names, then our rights to our bodies, then our privacy--pretty soon, what is left? Of course, identity is too messy for society anyway...I'm sure it would love to stamp it out entirely in the name of efficiency.

There are coincidences in the world, people. Deal.
posted by rushmc at 6:36 AM on November 18, 2002

Man, Robert Smith of The Cure could really make a killing on this.
posted by IshmaelGraves at 8:36 AM on November 18, 2002

I mean, come on, Bill Wyman? The bloke hasn't even been in the Stones for a decade, and has hardly burned up the charts on his own. In fact, I bet more readers of the Atlanta paper know "Bill Wyman" as the journalist rather than the musician.

sixdifferentways wins the prize. This is the most sensible thing that's been said about this tempest in a teapot.
posted by languagehat at 8:46 AM on November 18, 2002

This never would have happened if Wyman stuck to writing summaries of reality TV shows, which he is better at anyway. His musical taste is appalling.

coming up on 10 years soon. Hmmm.
posted by thirteen at 9:41 AM on November 18, 2002

Why is this just now coming to a head? Bill Wyman, former rock star, is hawking a book. 'Nuff said.
posted by dhartung at 1:32 PM on November 18, 2002

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