VANCOUVER — Randy Bachman and Fred Turner fronted one of the hottest rock bands of the 1970’s, selling millions of albums under the name Bachman-Turner Overdrive.
Now they’re front and centre in a B.C. Supreme Court lawsuit in which Bachman’s own brother and another former bandmate are suing the pair for using their own names.
Robin Bachman and Blair Thornton launched the lawsuit claiming Randy Bachman and Fred Turner signed away the rights to the Bachman-Turner Overdrive and BTO names in three separate contracts.
“Much as Coca Cola is synonymous in the world with Coke, so too is Bachman-Turner Overdrive with BTO,” says the lawsuit filed last Friday.
The Canadian rock band from Winnipeg was best known for the songs “You Ain’t Seen Nothing Yet” and “Takin’ Care of Business.”
After the group broke up in 1977, the lawsuit claims Randy Bachman and Turner signed away the rights to the BTO name to their two former bandmates and agreed not to use the Bachman-Turner Overdrive name without the consent of the other parties.
The lawsuit states that Randy Bachman and Turner signed two further deals in 1984 and 2002, saying they wouldn’t use the Bachman-Turner Overdrive name in connection to new recordings and live performances.
But in May 2009, the lawsuit claims that Randy Bachman’s company, Ranback, registered several names with the U.S. Patent and Trademark Office and the Canadian Intellectual Property Office including the names Bachman-Turner, B.T.U., and Bachman Turner Union.
It said Bachman and Turner have entered into contracts with concert promoters and agents to perform in Canada and Europe without the plaintiffs consent.
The lawsuit alleges the defendants have passed off their services to the public and diverted business that was rightfully theirs, “causing the plaintiffs harm and damage and appropriating to themselves profits which were rightful profits of the plaintiffs.”
Robin Bachman and Thornton are asking for a permanent injunction stopping Randy Bachman and Fred Turner from using the BTO and Bachman-Turner Overdrive names.
The pair is also looking for financial damages for loss of market share, income and profit.
No statement of defence has been filed and the allegations in the lawsuit have not been tested in court.
Legal expert Mira Sundara Rajan, the Canada Research Chair on Intellectual Property Law, said such a lawsuit is very unusual.
“That question of not being able to use their own name for musical performances is really dodgy,” she said.
Canadian law gives the moral right to the author and Canada has recently signed on to an international agreement that gives moral rights in performances, she said.
“If they perform, or if their work is used, they have a right to be associated with it by their own name, it’s basically common sense if you think about it.”
Sundara Rajan said if the artists specifically waived their moral right in the contracts, the outcome may be different.
“But what judges sometimes do is they look at contacts and they say ‘well this provision is very unfair’ and they interpret it some other way,” she said. “So no contract like that is going to be iron clad.”
She said the name Bachman-Turner Overdrive could be contentious because it is associated with a group that no longer exists.