Lengthy Court Battle Ahead For The Isley Brothers To Maintain Group Name

Ronald and Rudolph Isley are set to embark on a lengthy court battle over the rights of The Isley Brothers’ group name.

A federal judge has ruled against Ronald’s request to toss out Rudolph’s lawsuit that accuses him of trying to trademark the group name despite it being jointly owned, Billboard reports. U.S. District Judge Thomas M. Durkin ruled on Wednesday, Aug. 23, over a suit Rudolph initially filed in March.

“Defendant’s motion is denied,” Judge Durkin said of Ronald’s request to toss the suit.

The Isley Brothers formed in the 1950s after brothers O’Kelly, Rudolph, and Ronald Isley started performing gospel music with their mother in and around their native Cincinnati. The trio gained pop recognition in 1959 with their smash hit “Shout.”

Rudolph claims that he and Ronald have been the equal co-owners of the group’s intellectual property since the 1986 death of their third brother, O’Kelly Isley. However, Ronald disagrees, claiming the “Isley Brothers” trademarks are the property of those who have been actively using the name – and Rudolph forfeited his rights when he stopped performing with the band in 1986.

In March, Rudolph filed a lawsuit asking a judge to declare the trademark rights to the group name are “jointly owned by plaintiff and defendant equally.” He also wants Ronald to explain how he has “exploited” the trademark and share any revenue he’s earned from using the group name.

Ronald’s legal team wants the case tossed out, claiming Rudolph surrendered any control over the name when he left the band over 35 years ago. However, Judge Durkin noted the “unique circumstances” of band-name disputes and said the case could advance toward trial.

“Plaintiff’s contention is that when he ceased performing, he did not leave the group, but instead took on the sort of continuing managerial role that creates a continuing ownership right in the mark,” the judge wrote.

Now, with the new ruling, the case will head to discovery, where both sides will gather evidence to support their claims before heading to a jury trial. Rudolph’s lawyer, Brian D. Caplan, says his client is “happy that the court denied his brother’s motion to dismiss his complaint.”

Rudolph “looks forward to the recognition of his rights as a 50% owner in the name ‘The Isley Brothers,’ the iconic name of the band that he formed in 1954 with his two brothers.”

Durkin believes the case mimics that of the doo-wop group Vito & the Salutations, where one former member continued to hold rights to the name because he maintained a “behind-the-scenes role” after leaving the band. Rudolph claims to have taken on a similar “active” role in the Isley Brothers despite leaving the group in 1986.

Some of his most recent alleged contributions include playing a key role in securing a multimillion-dollar publishing deal in 2018 and helping to negotiate the use of the band’s iconic song “Shout” for a Super Bowl commercial in February.

“Plaintiff’s allegations regarding his activities on behalf of the group are more like those in [the Vito & the Salutations case] than [other musicians] who left their musical groups entirely and did not allege any continuing role,” Judge Durkin wrote.

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