The Newsboys, a popular Christian rock band, has filed a trademark infringement lawsuit against a rising rap duo that has what the band's attorney calls a "deceptively similar" name.
According to the suit, which was filed in the District Court of Middle Tennessee in early July, the name of the New Boyz rap group – which is made up of Earl "Ben J" Benjamin and Dominic "Legacy" Thomas – is not only similar to the Christian band's name, but it is also reminiscent of the 1991 Newsboys album, "Boys Will Be Boyz."
Shawn P. Sirgo, the attorney for the Newsboys, writes in the complaint that the band "has already documented several instances of actual confusion among its customers, prospective customers and other outside observers who mistakenly assume a connection between Plaintiff and Defendant and the respective music they offer."
The Newsboys band was founded in 1985, although it has undergone a number of personnel changes since that time including the addition of lead singer and former dc Talk member Michael Tait, who joined the band in March of 2009. They have produced 28 number one singles, and have put out four albums since 2008. The band's name became trademarked in 1994, long before the New Boyz signed a deal with Warner Bros. Records in 2009.
Songs created by the New Boyz – like "Back Seat" and "Bunz" – are "sexually charged and the lyrics are sexually explicit in content," the suit says. They are a far different from the faith-based lyrics of the Newsboys, who are known for songs like "God's Not Dead" and "He Reigns."
The goal of the Newsboys lawsuit is to prevent the New Boyz from continuing to use their name or "any other confusingly similar variation" of it, and also seeks damages for any losses the Newsboys took as a result of the name confusion. A preliminary court date has been set for Aug. 27 in Nashville.
Michael Gallagher, an intellectual property attorney at the Gallagher & Dawsey law firm in Ohio, told The Christian Post on Friday that there are two major issues in any trademark case: the degree to which the names are similar and whether or not the two parties are offering similar goods and services.
"Applying that to this case, the goods and services are essentially identical ... You could argue that one being a Christian group versus the other being a rap group is sufficiently different, that nobody would be confused, but that argument doesn't really grab me," said Gallagher.
He later added, however, that all courts are different and may rule differently as well. Most cases like this one, he said, result in the party who has infringed on the trademark changing their name in order to avoid excessive costs and penalties.
But a name change could potentially make things very difficult on the New Boyz rap group, says Lisa Mac, a creative director and social media marketing expert who founded BandMark, an Internet marketing company for bands. Mac told CP that even negative media attention can be a positive thing for a music group, but the online presence of the New Boyz could be difficult to salvage if a name change were to occur.
"Music fans don't really care if it's good or bad [press coverage] ... The bad press benefits everybody, but the band who has to change their name, they're going to get less traffic and less press," said Mac.
It's easy for new bands to change their name, she says, but when established groups like the New Boyz change their names, their fans need time to learn how to relocate them again on the Internet.
"In general I think that people have to be careful when they're picking a name and trademarking a name, because this stuff does happen. There's only so many band names left ... it's not like we're just starting to name bands," said Mac.
On Tuesday, the Newsboys announced an extension of their 60-city "God's Not Dead Tour" through this fall. Beginning in Johnson City, Tenn., on Sept. 20, the tour's extension will go to more than 35 cities across the U.S. and will conclude in San Antonio, Texas, on Nov. 18.
Both Sirgo and a spokesperson for the Warner Music Group, which oversees Warner Bros. Records, declined to speak about the case.