Verdict Reduced In Trademark Battle Between Hendrix Heirs

By Joseph Mandour on September 29, 2011

California Trademark LawLos Angeles – A lengthy legal battle between the companies of two rival heirs of legendary rock guitarist Jimi Hendrix finally came to a close recently with a ruling that while Hendrix’s brother’s company, Rockin Artwork, had damaged the reputation and goodwill of Hendrix’s adopted sister Janie’s trademark rights, the jury verdict of $1.4 million was excessive.

Widely considered the greatest guitar player of all time, Jimi Hendrix died at age 27 in 1970, leaving his entire estate to his father Al Hendrix. Upon Al’s death, he granted his entire estate to his adopted daughter Janie Hendrix. With that inheritance came rights to the majority of Jimi’s music and various other licensing rights. Leon Hendrix was denied any inheritance by his father.

Since then, both Leon Hendrix and Hendrix licensing companies controlled by Janie Hendrix have marketed and sold a wide variety of Hendrix merchandise. Leon Hendrix has marketed artwork, T-shirts, and even a brand of vodka called “Hendrix Electric Vodka.” Leon recently teamed up with Andrew Pitsicalis, becoming a co-owner of the Las Vegas based company Rockin Artwork. Rockin Artwork has continued to sell merchandise bearing the Hendrix name and likeness.

Hendrix’s adopted sister Janie Hendrix originally brought the action in 2009 against her brother’s company, Rockin Artwork, for trademark infringement and other claims arising out of Rockin Artwork’s registration of domain names such as HendrixLicensing.com and HendrixArtwork.com and the sale of various Hendrix merchandise. Janie Hendrix sought damages for harm to the reputation and goodwill of her trademarks and attorney’s fees totaling $500,000.

A domain name may be used as a trademark if it identifies the source of goods or services. Registration and use of a domain name may constitute trademark infringement if such registration and use is likely to lead to customer confusion. In this case, Janie Hendrix, the rightful owner of Hendrix licensing, alleged that the registration of various domain names including HendrixLicensing.com amounted to trademark infringement.
In February of 2011, District Court Judge Thomas Zilly held that controlling legislation, the Washington State Publicity Rights Act, was unconstitutional, allowing Rockin Artwork to continue to market the Hendrix merchandise. After a separate jury trial to assess damages decided in May of 2011, the Jury issued a verdict mandating that Rockin Artwork and Co-owner Andrew Pitsicalis pay $1.4 million in damages to companies controlled by Janie Hendrix.

Recently, Judge Zilly reduced the jury verdict by more than 90%. Reasoning that the initial verdict was too speculative and unreasonable, Judge Zilly determined that a sum of $110,000 was appropriate. The new verdict provided for $60,000 for lost profits and an additional $50,000 in attorney’s fees. Judge Zilly also issued a permanent injunction allowing Rockin Artwork to continue to sell merchandise but preventing them from owning the domain names to HendrixLicensing.com and HendrixArtwork.com.
Janie Hendrix plans to appeal Judge Zilly’s decision to set aside the initial verdict.

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