Black Flag vs. FLAG (A Punk Rock Lawsuit)
Last week I was made privy to some strange news, not shocking, not disheartening, but simply strange. Did you hear that Greg Ginn has filed a lawsuit against some of the ex-members of Black Flag?
If you move in punk/hardcore circles, you are probably aware of the two Black Flag reunions.
One outfit goes by the name of FLAG, consisting of Black Flag alumni, Keith Morris, Dez Cadena, Bill Stevenson, and Chuck Dukowski, along with Descendents guitarist Stephen Egerton, and in the other corner is the Black Flag reunion that retained the name—the Greg Ginn and Ron Reyes reunion, along with some guy from Gone on drums and some dude from Screeching Weasel on bass.
I had the opportunity to see the Reyes/Ginn reunion in Lawrence earlier this summer, and it kicked ass. I was blown away, but a juxtaposed opinion of the reunion is prevalent online. Looking online, I see more punk fans proclaiming that FLAG is the real deal, and the Ron Reyes/Greg Ginn reunion is weak, and the band is just phoning it in. That’s not what I walked away thinking when I saw them in June, but I haven’t seen FLAG in order to do a compare and contrast.
The language of the lawsuit is a deceleration that the use of the name FLAG and their logo, which actually differs from the original arrangement of the four bars, is a “colorable imitation” that is likely to cause “confusion, mistake or deception among consumers.” Such a statement might not stand up in court.
The argument becomes questionable when considering the speed at which info moves on the World Wide Web, which is the primary source where punk rock fans, and music fans in general, would get information on bands.
Months before both bands hit the road, I recall reading news blurbs and interviews on websites like Vice and Pitchfork. http://www.vice.com/read/the-long-vice-interview-with-flag-dukowski
I knew two different incarnations of Black Flag members, from different eras of the band, were jamming it out reunion style, and I could tell you which members were in which camp. I think it’s fair to assume that the majority of the target “consumers” would probably also know that.
But this will not be the first time ex-members of Black Flag have faced off in court: In 2007, Chuck Dukowski filed suit against Greg Ginn for unpaid royalties. A result of the trial was that Dukowski was forbidden to use the infamous four bars logo, not from playing Black Flag’s music live, but the FLAG logo is not the the same as Raymond Pettibon’s logo that decorated much of the original flier and album art of Black Flag. FLAG’s version is in a different alignment, and diehard fans or “consumers” are going to be able to spot that. Fuck, I did.
I’m not surprised by the lawsuit, but I think I sighed when I found out about it, a punk rock litigation. How did we come to this point?
Hell, it’s happened before: Former members of the Dead Kennedys took Jello Biafra to court under charges of failure to promote the Dead Kennedys’ back catalog. In his spoken word, Jello said the motive behind the lawsuit was his refusal to allow “Holiday In Cambodia” to be used in a jeans commercial. They won, Jello lost, and soon after, an imitation DKs reunion happened with Brandon Cruz, of Dr. Know, on vocals.
About the Dead Kennedys lawsuit ,V. Vale of RE:Search publications wrote “It’s a bizarre notion in fact, the whole idea of punk rockers suing each other over copyrights and financial contract details seems antithetical to the spirit of the original movement.” I concur.
What was the original spirit of that movement? In the American Hardcore documentary Ian MacKaye called it the “ultimate manifestation of youth.” Is such a feeling consistent with guys in their 50s playing songs from 30 years ago? Does that turn the old school into a mockery of its former self?
Can a genre that was drenched in the fountain of youth and teenage frustration survive into middle age? Many of the brightest leading-lights of the ’80s refused to limit themselves to a one-dimensional hardcore blueprint as they aged. A number of the old schoolers evolved musically, instead of making the same record from 1982 over and over again.
Jello Biafra is a prime example, moving beyond the confines of the music he made infamous with the Dead Kennedys. In the ’90s he did a country/rockabilly type record with Mojo Nixon.
Yes, we are long, long way from the 1980s or even the ’90s. The punk rock lawsuits are an example of how things have changed. To think that the four bars, a symbol that was once a representation of unrest ,spray painted all over Southern California and flaunted in the face of the LAPD, has been reduced to the status of another corporate logo to be placed alongside the Nike swoosh.
A link to the actual lawsuit below…
A quick scan of Google images reveals a plethora of different take offs and inversions of the four bars. The logo, although powerful and striking, is simply four rectangle shapes in in an alternating pattern. I don’t think Greg Ginn owns the rights to the use of rectangles.
Could both the estate of Elvis or Greg Ginn and SST Records go after the maker of this shirt?