Bella Union Winery and Union Wine Co. Settle Trademark Dispute
The ongoing litigation between California’s Bella Union Winery, owned by FN Cellars, LLC (owner of Far Niente) and Union Wine Co. of Oregon, over rights in the parties’ respective trademarks (BELLA UNION vs. UNION WINE CO.) has now concluded. On Wednesday, October 28, 2015, the parties filed a stipulation to dismiss all claims currently before the Federal District Court for the Northern District of California, including Bella Union’s claims for declaratory relief of noninfringement, which also sought cancellation of the asserted UNION WINE CO. trademark registration, as well as the latter’s counterclaims for infringement of the UNION WINE CO. mark. The parties have not publicly disclosed the terms of settlement. The federal court dismissal will likely be followed shortly by a dismissal of corresponding administrative cancellation proceedings before the Trademark Trial and Appeal Board against the BELLA UNION registration.
Clock is Ticking for Trademark Owners for .wine Generic Top-Level Domain
As we’ve previously reported, the Internet Corporation for Assigned Names and Numbers (ICANN) has been selling hundreds of generic top-level domains (gTLDs) to domain name registries for $185,000 each. These registries then authorize domain name registrars to sell domain names to the public under the gTLDs that the registries have purchased. The registry called Donuts has purchased many of these gTLDs, including two of particular interest to members of the wine industry — <.wine> and <.vin>. The <.wine> and <.vin> gTLDs have been in limbo since they were awarded to Donuts due to issues raised by the EU and several regional wine associations concerning the protection of appellations of origin within the <.wine> and <.vin> gTLDs. However, those issues have since been resolved and the <.wine> and <.vin> gTLDs are now moving forward.
This means that trademark owners that wish to secure domain names encompassing their trademarks under the <.wine> and <.vin> gTLDs must now do so within the sunrise periods that have been established by Donuts for the <.wine> and <.vin> gTLDs. If they fail to secure their domain names within the sunrise periods, those domain names under the <.wine> and <.vin> gTLDs can then be purchased by members of the general public and the only recourse available to the trademark owners will be through costly dispute resolution procedures.
The Sunrise periods for the <.wine> and <.vin> gTLDs open on November 17, 2015 and close on January 16, 2016. In order for a trademark owner to obtain its trademarks within domain names for the <.wine> and <.vin> gTLDs, the trademark owner must first register its trademarks with the Trademark Clearinghouse. We have previously blogged about the process for registering a trademark in the Trademark Clearinghouse here. Once a trademark owner has obtained registration in the Trademark Clearinghouse, it may then pay to register its trademarks as domain names under the <.wine> and/or <.vin> gTLDs with recognized domain name registrars during the November 17, 2015 – January 16, 2016 sunrise periods.
So, for all of you wineries wishing to take part in the new <.wine> and <.vin> gTLDs, now is the time to make sure that your trademarks are registered with the Trademark Clearinghouse. For additional information or any other questions contact Scott Gerien at his email.
ASCAP (ESCAPE) TO WINE COUNTRY
What should you do when copyright owners come a-knockin’?
Wineries throughout Sonoma and Napa Valley have recently received legal notices from copyright owner groups, threatening legal action for unauthorized live and recorded musical performances in their tasting rooms, etc. which feature songs subject to copyright protection.
The American Society of Composers, Authors and Publishers (ASCAP) and Broadcast Music, Inc. (BMI) are two of the most prominent performing rights societies which collect license royalties for the public performance of musical works in their catalogs. Public performance is defined broadly under the Copyright Act to include both live performances (aka “covers”) and recorded music played on the radio, on television, or online (e.g., via regular Pandora, without a business account). Performing rights societies are well-known for bringing suit when their on-the-ground surveillance reveals that a commercial establishment is allowing public performance to take place without an appropriate license.
Since tasting rooms are commercial establishments which fall outside of the private listening license that typically applies when you purchase music, playing music in a commercial environment (i.e., outside the “normal circle of friends and family”) constitutes an actionable copyright infringement of the public performance right of the copyright owner. Businesses that fail to pay the licensing fees of the copyright owner society (such as ASCAP) will be liable for copyright infringement, potentially including an award of the plaintiff’s attorneys’ fees. See, e.g.,: http://www.ascap.com/press/2015/0527-venues-refuse-to-pay.aspx
If you have not yet been contacted by ASCAP or BMI and know that you are not in compliance but still want to play music in your tasting room, your best strategy would be to subscribe to a provider that will cover licensing obligations with ASCAP and BMI, such as Sirius XM Music for Business or Pandora for Business. (Note that such plans typically do not cover paid entry or dancing.)
Chris Passarelli is Senior IP counsel at Dickenson, Peatman & Fogarty with experience in copyright and trademark issues facing the food & beverage, hospitality and entertainment industries. Contact Chris here.