Music and the courtroom are two things that should never co-exist. Sadly, they’ve learned to live hand in hand as artists attempt to protect what they view as rightly theirs and simultaneously line their pockets.
One would presume the catalyst for making musicians enter a law of court would solely be down to a copyright infringement by another artist. While this is the most common occurrence, it’s not always that straightforward, and sometimes it can enter a rather surreal territory.
These court cases can pit artists against people from completely different walks of life who, unbeknownst to them, have found themselves accidentally trespassing on intellectual property, and the downright strange match-ups force you to make a double-take at the names involved.
The only similarity that ties all of these bizarre court cases together is greed on somebodies behalf, which has forced people who’ve slaved away years at one of the best law schools in the world just to deal with matters of this benign nature.
Music’s strangest lawsuits:
Axl Rose v Guitar Hero
Guns N Roses frontman Axl Rose is known for being a prickly character at the best of times and, it turns out, somebody you don’t want to upset, as video game franchise Guitar Hero found out the hard way.
In 2010, Rose attempted to sue the game for $20 million after claiming that they breached his contract. Guitar Hero III: Legends Of Rock featured the Guns N Roses track, ‘Welcome To The Jungle’, which Rose agreed to, but only on the condition that Slash doesn’t appear on the game.
When Rose discovered that Slash was the game’s cover star, he lost his mind and decided to get the law involved. After a three-year-long battle, Rose had to admit defeat, and then in 2016, Slash finally returned to Guns N Roses after a 20-year absence.
Van Halen v Nike
In 2009, Nike released a strikingly similar shoe to Eddie Van Halen’s trademark red, white, and black Frankenstrat guitar. Although this could easily have been a coincidence, Eddie created his own sneaker company that sold a shoe with that very design just a year prior.
Van Halen said it caused “irreparable harm and damage” to his design. The guitarist wanted money and “the impoundment and destruction of all footwear”.
Nike’s lawyers are people you don’t want to mess with, and they quickly assassinated the lawsuit by claiming the trainer was not “substantially similar”.
M.I.A. v The NFL
During M.I.A.’s appearance with Madonna at the Super Bowl in 2012, she nonchalantly decided to flick her middle finger during the performance. Surely that didn’t land her in hot water, right?
Out of the 111.3 million viewers of the event, 222 decided to log a complaint to the NFL for the incident. Therefore, the federation saw it as fair game to sue M.I.A. for $1.5 million, claiming that it tarnished the organisation’s “goodwill and reputation”. Then, in 2014, they increased to claim to a staggering $15 million, and later that year, the singer agreed to sign, but the figure remains unknown.
“I was at Roc Nation at the time and Jay-Z was managing me,” she told Huck in 2018. “The lawsuit was so ridiculous, it proposed that they would keep one hundred percent of my earnings for the rest of my life if I ever earned more than $2 million (£1.4m).
“Jay-Z was like, ‘You should sign that shit,’ and I was like, ‘No,'” she continued. “A middle finger, it’s like get a fucking grip. People were like, ‘Oh you’re lucky you’re not in jail, give up all your profit, be this slave for the rest of your life.'”
Slipknot v Burger King
It’s hard to imagine the Slipknot lads tucking into a Whopper, and they were less than impressed with the franchise giant in 2005 after they unveiled a fictional rock band called Coq Roq. Burger King created the animated band to promote their new range of chicken fries, and the group did borrow imagery from the metal genre.
Slipknot’s lawyer told Burger King: “It is obvious that the television advertising and website are designed to conjure up the image and persona of a live performance of Slipknot. In addition to capturing the flavour and high energy intensity of a Slipknot performance, the members of Coq Roq wear masks that include a gas mask as worn by Slipknot’s Sid Wilson, a kabuki style mask as worn by Slipknot’s Joey Jordison and a mask with dreads as worn by Slipknot’s Corey Taylor.”
Burger King responded by saying Slipknot were only re-hashing what groups like Kiss had done before them, and their schtick was nothing new either. Both parties then decided not to go any further with the legal proceedings, and Burger King agreed that the Coq Roq adverts had already run their cause.
Jay-Z v Hell’s Kitchen Winner
When Newcastle native Terry Miller won Hell’s Kitchen in 2005, he expected his life to change, but a legal battle with Jay-Z is one thing that he didn’t foresee on the horizon.
In 2006, Jay-Z lodged a lawsuit against Miller because his Newcastle restaurant, Rockafella, was too close name-wise to Roc-A-Fella records and remarkably, this case rumbled for five years before the chef was instructed to change the name of the eatery.
“I’ve had enough of this whole naming thing now. It’s been a headache all along and has been rumbling for years,” Miller said in 2011. Sadly in 2014, the chef was declared bankrupt after admitting he was “mortgaged to the hilt”.
Kanye West v Evil Knievel
The late legendary stuntman Evil Knievel was left dumbfounded by Kanye West’s 2006 video, ‘Touch The Sky’, which sees the rapper rename himself, Evel Kanyevel, and replicated his madcap behaviour.
Speaking to The Washington Post, Knievel lamented: “That video that Kanye West put out is the most worthless piece of crap I’ve ever seen in my life, and he uses my image to catapult himself on the public… The guy just went too far using me to promote his filth to the world.”
Kanye took it into his own hands and visited him personally at his Florida home. The sweet-talking worked a charm, and Knievel dropped the case following the meeting. “I thought he was a wonderful guy and quite a gentleman,” the stuntman told the BBC. “We settled the lawsuit amicably. I was very satisfied and so was he.”
The battle of the Bill Wyman’s
Former Rolling Stones bassist Bill Wyman may have been born William George Perks, but that hasn’t stopped him trying to have ownership on a name that technically isn’t even his.
In 2002, Wyman sent a cease-and-desist order to American critic Bill Wyman, the bassist demanding him to change his name despite the writer genuinely being called Bill Wyman. The writer was told, “If indeed, (his) given legal name is Bill Wyman (a fact which we would insist be reasonably demonstrated to us)”.
After proving that he was called Bill Wyman, the former Stones man lawyers said: “Our request for a clarification has been largely accomplished, and with a reach and level of effectiveness well beyond that for which we might otherwise have hoped.”