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Motown tribute acts face legal threats from Universal Music

Motown acts, such as Motown Magic (pictured), have been ordered to change their name by Universal Music.
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Motown tribute acts have been threatened with legal action by one of the world’s biggest music labels unless they change their names.

Universal Music Group has given UK acts featuring the word Motown in their titles two weeks to stop using their names, or face legal action.

It comes as Motown the Musical prepares to open in the West End next year. The musical has a book by Berry Gordy Jr, who founded the Motown label in 1959.

The letter from UMG follows similar efforts it made in 2010, when ABBA groups across the country were issued legal notices demanding they change their band names. Several of these bands continue to operate under their original names, however.

The Magic of Motown and Motown Magic are among the tribute bands to have been contacted by UMG, demanding they change their names.

Motown Magic’s letter, seen by The Stage and sent by lawyers Lane IP on behalf of UMG, states that Motown is an “American record label” owned by UMG and adds that “Motown and Motown Magic are highly similar”.

It continues that the tribute act is operating “in the same field as our client and hence there is a commercial conflict”.

The law firm states that using Motown Magic is a trademark infringement and adds that UMG is “entitled to commence proceedings” against Motown Magic, to secure an injunction preventing any
further activities under that name.

However, UMG says it will not take action if Motown Magic agrees to a number of conditions, including refraining from using its current name and agreeing not to pass itself off as “goods or services… connected to UMG”.

Motown Magic also has to agree to transfer its internet domain name, motownmagic.com, to UMG and pay costs incurred from UMG having to raise the matter and resolve it.

Ashley Blake, Motown Magic’s band leader, told The Stage he could not understand why no action had been taken in the five years to date during which the group has used the name.

“They have never complained before, but then a musical about Motown is announced and suddenly they are clamping down,” he said.

He added that the group would be entitled to use the words “formerly known as Motown Magic” on marketing, but only for eight weeks.

He said that would not help with venues booked later in the year, which would know the group under its present name.

“We are six musicians, our website clearly states we play Motown and soul music, we do not in any way try to visually copy the Motown acts, we do not use the Motown logo, and the point of our band name is just to let the public know we play Motown music – we are not trying to deceive the public in any way,” he said, adding: “It is just a shame that a recording label with such humble beginnings seems hell-bent on making it an elitist entity whereby to hear its music live you will have to wait until next year for the musical, probably costing anything from £40 a seat upwards, or sit at home listening to the music on your stereo.”

Blake described UMG’s actions as like “using a sledgehammer to crush an ant”.

“The tribute market is a massive area of the industry. It generates income tax for the government and keeps musicians working. I wonder where this will stop. A band our size can’t take on UMG. Rather than investing thousands fighting this, we will have to roll over,” he said.

Lane IP did not respond to a request for a comment.

The Stage Awards 2015

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