Summerfest Sues MLB Team Over Rival Festival Featuring Imagine Dragons – Billboard
Written by GRB on 14/07/2023
A legal battle is underway in the Upper Midwest over dueling “Summer” music festivals, pitting the organizers of Milwaukee’s decades-old Summerfest against an upstart rival hosted by the Minnesota Twins under a similar name.
In a lawsuit filed Thursday (July 13) in Wisconsin federal court, the company behind the Milwaukee concert series accused the Twins of infringing its trademarks by launching TC Summer Fest, which will kick off Friday and feature performances by Imagine Dragons and The Killers at the ballclub’s Target Field in Minneapolis.
Lawyers for Summerfest say that the name of the Minnesota event is already creating “public confusion” and clearly violates their exclusive right to use that name for music festivals. Among other evidence, they cited multiple media outlets that had allegedly mixed up the two fests.
“These instances are just some of the confusion that is occurring in the marketplace, confusion that the Twins is hoping to benefit from as they launch their inaugural music festival building upon the goodwill and reputation of the ‘Summerfest’ trademarks,” the lawyers for Summerfest wrote.
With less than two days before the new festival was set to start, lawyers for Summerfest demanded “an immediate injunction to stop the Twins from their infringing conduct,” arguing it would be “irreparably harmed” if the Minneapolis festival is allowed to start on Friday night under the existing name.
“The Twins had any number of [names] they could be using to brand their event,” Summerfest wrote. “They should not be allowed to piggy-back on the success and goodwill that [the] Summerfest trademarks hold.”
As of Friday, the Twins’ website still indicated that the TC Summer Fest event would take place under the current name. A spokesman for the Twins did not immediately return a request for comment.
Summerfest, which calls itself “The World’s Largest Music Festival,” has been held annually in Milwaukee since 1986, featuring performances by The Doors, Eric Clapton, Whitney Houston, Prince and many other legendary acts. This year’s event, running over three weekends from late June to early July, drew a reported 600,000 attendees to see Imagine Dragons, Zac Brown Band, Sheryl Crow and others.
TC Summer Fest, meanwhile, was announced in May and is being billed by the Twins as “The Biggest Rock Weekend of the Year.” According to the Star Tribune, the two-night event was partially organized by local promoter Jerry Braam, who had previously spearheaded a similar festival in the area called “Twin Cities Summer Jam.” The Flaming Lips, Death Cab for Cutie and others will also perform.
In June, attorneys for Summerfest’s parent company (Milwaukee World Festival) sent a cease-and-desist letter to the Twins, warning the team that they believed the new name infringed trademarks. According to a copy of that letter, the lawyers said they were prepared to “take appropriate measures” against “a clear attempt” by the ballclub to capitalize on a “well-known brand.” And they specifically noted that appending “TC” to the name and spacing the two words would not fix the problem.
On Thursday, a day before the TC Summer Fest was set to kick off and without any apparent resolution to the dispute, the older festival made good on those threats.
“The Twins continued use of TC Summer Fest is creating public confusion by suggesting that the Twins’ event is connected with, or endorsed by MWF, which it is not,” the company’s lawyers wrote. “It is abundantly clear from articles and public commentary there is confusion between MWF’s Summerfest and the Twins’ TC Summer Fest.”
Among other evidence, lawyers for Summerfest cited one very specific quote given by Meka Morris, executive vp/chief business officer for the Twins, to the Star Tribune newspaper. In it, she made a direct comparison to Milwaukee’s longstanding festival.
“The name Summer Fest is an homage to the legacy of the Summer Jam, and a nod to the festival-style nature of this event,” Morris said in the article. “Summerfest in Milwaukee is certainly an iconic Midwest music event, as we hope the TC Summer Fest will also become.”
Trademarks are different than copyrights, and trademark owners like Summerfest do not have the same kind of direct intellectual property rights as an author has over the text of a novel. Instead, they must prove that the use of a similar name on related goods or services will confuse consumers into thinking that the two brands are somehow affiliated.
Summerfest says it can clearly do so in the case of TC Summer Fest. In its lawsuit, it argues that it has “enjoyed exclusive use” of the name for “several decades” on one of the “one of the top ranked music festivals in the country,” meaning the name is “widely recognized by consumers” for just one event. But in its defense, the Twins might argue that such a name is too commonplace or “descriptive” — merely a “fest” in the “summer” — for fans to exclusively associate it with any one festival.
In recent months, Summerfest has been aggressive in trying to prevent others from using the name. In its lawsuit, the organizers say they have sent 32 cease and desist letters since April 2022 to rival events that feature “Summerfest” in their names, and that 27 have either agreed to stop or agreed to pay royalties to the Milwaukee event.
Though Summerfest’s lawsuit is seeking an immediate injunction against this weekend’s event, it seems unlikely that the federal judge assigned to the case will even have time to weigh in before this year’s festival concludes on Saturday.
On Thursday, Judge William M. Conley said he would set a schedule for both sides to file arguments on the Summerfest’s request for an injunction, but such a schedule had not yet been set as of Friday afternoon.
Read the entire lawsuit here: