Eagle Foundation Hits Eagles Band With Suit Of Its Own

Lawsuit seeks compensation for costs incurred during trademark dispute.

It's no secret that Don Henley has always been a keen proponent of conservation and environmental protection. And when you consider that he contributed $10,000 to the American Eagle Foundation in 1995 to assist in the care of eaglets being released to the wild, it seems perplexing that his band, the Eagles, hit the foundation with a trademark infringement lawsuit three years later.

The band — which dropped the suit earlier this month but faces a countersuit later this week — took exception with the foundation's use of the URL www.eagles.org, the phone number (800) 2-EAGLES and the organization's American Eagle Records compact disc and video distribution label, claiming that these names caused confusion amongst the record-buying public.

The foundation, based in Dollywood, Tennessee, defended itself by pointing out that the eagle has been a national symbol for more than 200 years and that "tens of thousands" of commercial companies have used the name and image to promote their businesses.

"At no time has the foundation ever competed with the Eagles rock band in the music business or used the band's name to promote the foundation's CD or video distribution and sales," American Eagle's president, Al Cecere, argued in a statement. "Furthermore, the general public has never confused the foundation with the rock band. No one has ever called our toll-free number or sent e-mails through our Web site attempting to join the band's fan club or to purchase their records or concert tickets."

On June 8, while the band was touring Europe, lawyers for Henley and Eagles manager Irv Azoff dropped the case after a Knoxville federal court judge refused to delay a trial scheduled for June 11.

Cecere said he plans to file a suit against the Eagles on Friday for expenses his organization incurred over the nearly four years it fought the suit. The suit will seek compensation for attorney fees, travel expenses and deposition costs and will probably exceed $500,000, foundation lawyer James Hastings said.

In addition, the foundation may file suit for "vexatious unfair trade practices," which Hastings described as "beating up on somebody else in an oppressive, illegitimate manner which causes damage." He estimated that Cecere could seek more than $1 million in punitive damages.

Hastings pointed out that the foundation had to divert resources while battling the case and that a significant amount of income was locked up in the process, stifling the organization's growth.

"This took a chunk out of the foundation," he said. "There was a great deal of worrying while having to defend this frivolous suit and [there were] lost opportunities because of the time that was spent on it. The whole thing is just bewildering."