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Estate of Thelonious Monk Sues Brewery

My worlds have collided: trademarks, jazz, and craft beer have finally come together in one exciting blog post.

T.S. Monk, the son of the incomparable jazz pianist Thelonious Monk, has sued Fort Bragg, California’s North Coast Brewing in San Francisco Federal Court. This is, of course, not Thelonious’ first connection to San Francisco.

The Monk estate had granted the brewery the rights to use Thelonious’ name and likeness in connection with the sale of beer – specifically, North Coast’s Brother Thelonious Belgian Style Abbey Ale. North Coast donates a portion of all sales of the beer to the Thelonious Monk Institute of Jazz.

Brother Thelonious

However, the suit alleges that North Coast exceeded the scope of its license by using the image on “T-shirts, sweatshirts, and mouse pads,” as well as in connection with events that are sponsored by North Coast.

The suit seeks damages for, among other claims, trademark infringement and violation of the estate’s right of publicity. The latter applies when you’re using the name or likeness of a real person – under the laws of many states, individuals (and, often, their estates) have certain exclusive rights to exploit their images for commercial purposes.

We’ll have to wait and see how North Coast responds.

The bottom line – when you’ve negotiated for the rights to use the name and/or likeness of a real person, alive or dead, be sure to stay within the scope of the license agreement.

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