Why is Guns N’ Roses in the news?
It’s so easy to avoid getting sued by Axl Rose: simply avoid naming your business something that implies it might be affiliated with his eighties heavy-metal band. That’s a lesson that the owners of a Houston-area online store called Texas Guns and Roses learned the hard way last week, after they were served with a trademark lawsuit by attorneys for the group. The suit alleges that the store’s name is “likely to cause confusion.”
Uh-oh. Sounds like the band’s approach to potential trademark infringement isn’t exactly “anything goes.”
The shop’s owners may have believed they were in paradise city when they launched the concept, which is a store that sells guns, gun accessories, and roses, but the band felt otherwise. Some trademark holders take a live-and-let-live approach when confronting possible infringement of a somewhat dubious nature—it’s unlikely anyone believes that Axl and the boys opened a shop in Texas and dropped their predilection for abbreviating “and” as “N’ ” (a bit to which Rose is particularly committed). In this case, though, it appears that GNR’s approach is more live and let die.
Indeed. What else does the lawsuit say?
The suit goes beyond just the potential for confusion regarding whether customers might glimpse Axl or Slash behind the counter when they pop in for a bouquet and an AR-15. GNR’s civil war against the shop stems from the fact that Texas Guns and Roses has a political component to its website under a section of the site called “Firearms News,” where it advocates against firearm restrictions, expressing views that the members of the band don’t share. “GNR, quite reasonably, does not want to be associated with Defendant, a firearms and weapons retailer,” the lawsuit notes. “Furthermore, Defendant espouses political views related to the regulation and control of firearms and weapons on the Website that may be polarizing to many U.S. consumers.”
Sounds tricky. But the band doesn’t exactly stay away from polarizing subjects, does it?
That’s true, so don’t cry for it. In 1989, in response to a controversy surrounding the various slurs that appear in the lyrics of the song “One in a Million,” the New York Times ran a column with the headline “There’s a New Sound in Pop Music: Bigotry.” Two years later, Rose was accused of inciting a riot at a show in St. Louis, and he was found guilty of misdemeanor assault in the incident. More recently, he apologized for throwing his microphone into the crowd after a show last week in Australia, which allegedly led to a fan injury. Still, the lawsuit suggests that the band would prefer to create its own controversies, rather than deal with the aftermath of those created by an unaffiliated weapons shop–slash–florist. Accordingly, the band hopped on the locomotive to legal action.
You might say GNR took the night train past a cease-and-desist letter. What’s this store all about, anyway?
Visitors to TexasGunsAndRoses.com who are shopping for both of the normally disparate items are much more likely to find the former than the latter. The site lists its categories as: lower receivers (for firearms), handguns, rifles, shotguns, ammo, magazines, optics, knives, parts and gear (such as body armor), suppressors, and then one tab for “roses,” through which shoppers can purchase one of four available bouquets.
Lawsuits between small local businesses and large, well-established brands tend not to end well for the former, as anyone who’s ever been accused of violating the Buc-ee’s trademark is well aware. Buc-ee’s, for example, won a trademark infringement case before a jury in a lawsuit against a roadside gas station whose mascot was an alligator, which is definitely not a beaver—which tends to put the onus on the less-resourced defendant to either change its name or risk losing a fortune in legal fees and then changing its name anyway.
This sure could keep everyone pretty tied up. Is Texas Guns and Roses going to get in the ring with the band?
It looks that way for now. A lawyer for the shop told Gizmodo that the lawsuit acknowledges Guns N’ Roses has no evidence of confusion between the band and the store, and he indicated that the latter intends to push back: “We will be fighting back on this,” said Houston attorney David Clark. We’ll see how it plays out, but given the history of similar cases—in Texas and elsewhere—we wouldn’t be surprised to learn, once again, that nothing lasts forever in the cold November rain.