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Universal Music seeks preliminary injunction against Republic investments site in trademark battle

By | Published on Wednesday 26 January 2022

Universal Music

Universal Music has requested a preliminary injunction as part of its ongoing legal battle with Republic. Not it’s own label Republic, obviously. But New York-based online investment platform Republic, which moved into the music space last year via a partnership with music financing and NFTs platform Opulous.

The major record company sued the Republic investment firm last November as the latter’s partnership with Opulous got under way with a project that invited investors and fans to put money into a new track by Lil Pump and Soulja Boy, securing themselves in return a cut of any future royalties generated by that recording.

The basic model of that scheme is the same as the fan funding platforms of old, but with Republic and Opulous each investor’s royalty rights are logged on the blockchain as NFTs. Meanwhile, Opulous’s sister company Ditto manages the royalty payments.

At the time, Republic – the investment platform – was being quite bullish about its move into music investments, which obviously offers artists an alternative route to finance instead of signing to label.

That, Republic’s bumf stressed, meant that anyone who invested in music releases on its platform – in addition to getting royalty rights and other perks – would also be helping to “fix [a record] industry that pays creators only 12% of the revenues they generate”.

So that was certain to doubly piss off Universal Music. Once again the majors were being presented as the bad guys in the context of the digital music industry. And the dissing was coming from a company that shared a name with one of its own labels, Republic Records. The dissing was annoying. But the common name, the major argued in its lawsuit, was trademark infringement.

Given the way that Republic the investment platform was talking about its music projects last year, the whole Republic Music venture was sounding very like a record label, Universal added. And while Republic might argue that its move into music was really all about the non-fungible tokens, the major is also jumping on the NFT bandwagon, it declared, so that’s confusing too.

“If defendant delivers on this promise”, Universal’s lawsuit stated, “then the artists, labels, managers, agents, and fans who currently know of only plaintiff’s Republic label would be presented with two different companies offering identical services under identical names in the same industry. Confusion is inevitable”.

The Republic platform isn’t being so vocal about its move into music at the moment, but nevertheless Universal wants a preliminary injunction stopping it from offering any music investment opportunities under its Republic brand while the wider trademark litigation goes through the motions.

According to Billboard, legal papers requesting the preliminary injunction filed on Monday state: “In the short time since defendant began using defendant’s Republic marks in connection with its new music-related services, there have already been numerous instances of actual confusion”.

Indeed, it adds, even “sophisticated professionals and trade industry publications” have mixed up the Republic investment site and the Republic label. Not this sophisticated professional and trade industry publication I’d like to add. Though having to constantly distinguish between the two Republics when reporting on this legal battle is slightly tedious. So maybe they have a point.

That confusion, Universal also says in its new legal filing, became even more annoying when people started publicly moaning about Republic the investment platform.

The launch of Republic’s music products last year was, the major alleges, “riddled with complications and poorly-explained instructions resulting in consumer complaints. Website shutdowns also plagued defendant’s launch”.

And Universal doesn’t want anyone to think that its Republic Records was in anyway involved in any complicated launched or poorly-explained instructions.

Republic now has a chance to respond to the injunction request. Republic the investment platform that is. It would be silly for Republic the label to respond. Though, given how confused everyone apparently is, maybe it will anyway.