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Earth, Wind and Fire Prevail in Lawsuit Against Tribute Band

A judge agreed that the tribute band Earth, Wind and Fire Legacy Reunion had employed 'deceptive and misleading' marketing practices.

qearth wind fire press credit jabari jacobs
Source: Jabari Jacobs

Original Earth, Wind and Fire band members sued a tribute band for misleading marketing.

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Funk legends Earth, Wind and Fire have triumphed in their legal suit against a tribute band that they alleged had been utilizing "deceptive and misleading” marketing practices. The lawsuit, filed in Miami court, alleged copyright infringement against a band of former sidemen that had been performing under the name Earth, Wind and Fire Legacy Reunion.

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Source: U.S. State Department

Bassist Verdine White, singer Philip Bailey and percussionist Ralph Johnson.

The claim was filed in 2023 against Substantial Music Group and Stellar Communications, which managed the tribute band. A penalty hearing to determine potential monetary damages will be held in May.

David Greenbaum, a lawyer for the band, said in a statement that he was "pleased that the court agreed with our client’s position on trademark infringement and related claims, granting summary judgment. We await trial on damages.”

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earth wind and fire
Source: MEGA

The real Earth, Wind and Fire perform.

Considering that there are hundreds of tribute bands performing the repertoire of iconic acts -- including multiple Earth, Wind and Fire tribute bands -- the case offered an interesting test as to how closely such bands can hew to the iconography of the originals.

In this case, U.S. District Judge Federico A. Moreno noted that the absence of such qualifiers as "tribute" in the name of the group, as well as the presence of the word "reunion," was enough to count as "deceptive and misleading." As Moreno wrote, the band's name “implies not that they are ‘covering’ or ‘reproducing’ the music but were the original performers.” According to the lawsuit, the tribute act also used the Earth, Wind and Fire logo, and even photos of original band members who had no association with the tribute act.

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Source: MEGA

Verdine White onstage with Earth, Wind and Fire.

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The real Earth, Wind and Fire currently comprises early members Philip Bailey, Ralph Johnson, and founding bassist Verdine White. The group has continued to perform under the name even after the 2016 death of founder and bandleader Maurice White. Since the group's founding in 1969, Earth, Wind and Fire have released more than 20 albums, with 1975's That's the Way of the World topping the U.S. album chart, and follow-ups like Spirit, Raise, All n' All and I Am all reaching the top 5. The group's signature song, "Shining Star," was their only No. 1 single, though songs like "September," "Boogie Wonderland" and "Let's Groove" have all since become R&B standards.

Earth, Wind and Fire was inducted into the Rock & Roll Hall of Fame in 2000, and received a Grammy Lifetime Achievement honor in 2016. (The group won six competitive Grammys.) They received Kennedy Center Honors in 2019, becoming the first Black music act to do so.


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