With all the talk about Guns N’ Roses’ imminent reunion at Coachella 2016 (which also features my client, Prayers), I thought I’d take a look at the GUNS N’ ROSES trademark situation. Who owns Guns N’ Roses? As you’ll see, the status remains unclear.
There are 3 active U.S. trademark registrations for the phrase GUNS N’ ROSES:
All three were registered in the name of GUNS N’ ROSES (a partnership) composed of W. Axl Rose, Saul Hudson (aka Slash), and Michael “Duff” McKagan. There’s no mention of any of the other bandmates that had come and gone by that point. The first two trademark applications were filed in 1992 (around the time of the band’s Use Your Illusion albums). The third was filed in 1996, after the band had all but fallen apart.
Note that each of the registrations are for the word mark GUNS N’ ROSES, not for the band’s famous logo, which features images of…well, guns and roses. A trademark application for the logo was filed in 1996, but the application never actually registered.
Around 1997, reports began to circulate that lead singer Axl Rose had either purchased the rights to the band name from his former partners, or had forced them to reliquish the band name. Here’s one contemporary news story about the issue.
It’s never been clear how Axl could have forced Slash and Duff to turn over the rights to the brand name and trademark GUNS N’ ROSES. However, it’s important to understand that these types of partnership agreements are, in most cases, private, and the terms don’t have to be made public. Maybe Axl had a legitimate breach of contract claim against his former bandmantes, who knows?
Regardless of the status of ownership, the rights in the GUNS N’ ROSES trademarks were never officially assigned to anyone else. That said, if the partnership changed hands (meaning, if Slash and Duff left or were fired), that would not necessarily require a trademark assignment.
In any case, Axl continued to record and perform sporadically with a revolving cast of bandmates over the last two decades. It now appears that most or all of the original band will finally reunite for the first time since founding (more or less) drummer Steven Adler was fired for excessive drug use in 1990.
Thanks to the passage of time, and, one assumes, a large sum of money, the band seems to have put their differences behind them. For the time being, at least. But the actual ownership of the GUNS N’ ROSES brand name remains a mystery.