As the final days of 1997 were drawing to a close, the pioneering punk-rock
label Alternative Tentacles Records found itself the recipient of good
news when a federal judge dismissed a $2.2 million lawsuit filed against
the label, owner Jello Biafra and the Crucifucks band by the Philadelphia
Fraternal Order of Police (FOP) and police sergeant John Whalen.
"Of all the legal harassment I've been through, this has to be the most
groundless, mean-spirited and ridiculous," Biafra said on Monday of the ruling that came down Dec. 29.
The suit, filed in 1996, revolved around cover art for the Crucifucks'
Our Will Be Done album from 1992. The FOP took exception to the
"misappropriation" of a posed image of Whalen, which showed the officer
gunned down in the line of duty.
"Our work in question is clearly a commentary about the widespread problem
of police brutality in America," Biafra said.
Alternative Tentacles' lawyer, Richard Stott, said that the judge in the case
concurred with the defendants that the grounds for dismissal were twofold:
First, that the FOP is an organization, not a person, and is thus not an
entity subject to invasion of privacy and defamation; and second, that no
reasonable person could know that the officer in the picture was Whalen.
A default judgment against Alternative Tentacles, Biafra and the Crucifucks was issued last April after the defendants failed to report for trial. At the time,
Biafra, the label and the band said they were never properly served with notice
for the case. December's ruling sets that default judgment aside.
The FOP was unavailable for comment. Stott said the organization filed for appeal in the U.S. Court of Appeals last week.
In 1986, Biafra and his hard-core punk outfit the Dead Kennedys were charged with distributing pornography to minors when they included a graphic poster in
their Frankenchrist album. That lawsuit resulted in a hung jury and
was dismissed. -- Chris Nelson [Mon., Jan. 12, 1998, 3 p.m. PST]