Rapper Warren G said the letter is his. It's part of his identity. His trademark. His
very artistic essence.
Country crooner Garth Brooks begs to differ. As far as he's concerned, Brooks
has been and will always be "g." Nothing more. Nothing less.
As a result, lawyers for the rap master and the man some claim is the
undisputed king of modern day country are battling it out over the right to the seventh letter in
the alphabet as a trademark for their client's name. In an effort to settle the dispute,
the two artists filed lawsuits against one another last month.
Since then, the battle has become something of a high-profile bickering match
between the two sides.
"We filed suit before they did," said Rusty Jones, Brooks attorney, who added
that he filed a "complaint for declaratory judgment of non-infringement" in a
Nashville Federal Court to protect his clients trademark "g." "We've asked the
federal court in Nashville to declare that Garth Brooks' mark is not an infringement
on Warren G's mark." Jones said his client had the letter copyrighted two years
Meanwhile, Warren G's attorney, David Cordrey, who has sued for exclusive
rights to the letter, claimed that his client's application for a trademark was
and approved in 1995 by the Patent and Trademark Office, and that he filed for
the patent well before Brooks' people had done so. "The bottom of line is that
we have filed in the Trademark Office a notice of opposition to any attempt on
their part to get a trademark," he said. "That is something that I anticipate will be
heard in the next few months."
While they differ in some ways, both lowercase letters are similar in their classic
angular style, close to a New York Times font. However, Brooks' letter is
encircled, while Warren G's is not.
Cordrey claims that only Warren G should be able to use the letter
for merchandising or promotion. Cordrey has thus filed an additional suit in
California against the country singer for trademark infringement.
"There's no question that the marks are very similar," Cordrey said. "I had
someone go out with a piece of Warren G merchandise, and depending on the
arena and where she went, people thought she was either into Garth Brooks or
However, Jones claims the styles of lettering are so different there's no reason
to be concerned about confusion among consumers and fans. "We don't think
that the marks are similar at all and we think that the lawsuit is without merit,"
Jones said. "And we feel that their claim is without merit and we are quite happy
with our case. We are quite confident that we will prevail."
In the end, according to entertainment attorney Don Engel, who represents
numerous musicians, it's a question of how alike the two letters are. "The
important question is: will there be a likely confusion among consumers?"
he said. "In my experience, it is very hard to prevail on an initial unless your
style is very different and the other person is close to your style."
If Brooks' mark is deemed too similar to Warren G's, he added, and Warren G
did use the mark in commerce first, Brooks might have to take a different "g."
Still, he added, there is no way anyone is going to stop him from using a "letter
'g' of some kind."
Negativland's Mark Hosler, an artist who has spent his musical career
challenging intellectual property law through his group's sample-heavy recordings
and daring cover art, said the entire debate is, to say the least, disturbing.
"Increasingly we are living in a world that is so symbolic and abstract and
removed from any common sense sense of reality that it's both funny and disturbing and also frightening."
Hosler's sound-collage collective, Negativland, was most recently sued by U2's record and song publishing companies in 1991 over their satirical appropriation of U2's logo and music on Negativland's 1991 EP, U2.
While the attorneys for both Warren G and Brooks apparently take the matter
seriously and are willing to take it to the limit, Hosler said, "This means that the
world is getting pretty damn silly."
Negativland member Don Joyce added simply, "I'd say they are talking to their
lawyers too much." [Thur., Nov. 6, 1997, 9 a.m. PST]