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Liverpool's Cavern Club back in court over name dispute with Hard Rock Cafe

Liverpool’s Cavern Club announced in a press release May 14 it is taking America's Hard Rock Cafe International back to court in Florida in a bid to end a 20-year-old legal dispute over who is entitled to own the rights to the “Cavern Club” name in the U.S. The Liverpool club, where The Beatles performed before and after becoming famous, says it has argued in the past that the Hard Rock Club has no justification to have the Liverpool club's name in this country.

Liverpool's Cavern Club in 2011 and a performance by the Mersey Beatles tribute group.
Photo by Christopher Furlong/Getty Images
The Beatles perform at the Cavern Club in Liverpool.
Courtesy the Cavern Club. Used by permission.

The dispute began in 1994. Court documents filed in 2012 state that “Since 1994, Defendant (the Hard Rock Cafe) has owned the federally registered trademark 'Cavern Club.'” Documents show Liverpool's Cavern Club filed a petition in 2005 before the United States Patent and Trademark Office’s Trademark Trial and Appeal Board (“TTAB”) to cancel the Hard Rock's Cavern Club trademark registration.

According to court papers, the Trademark Trial and Appeal Board issued an order in the Hard Rock's favor. In 2011, the Liverpool Cavern Club filed an action seeking review of the TTAB’s decision about the trademark and injunctive relief. The new action is being taken in Florida because Orlando is the base of the Hard Rock Corporation, the Cavern Club said. On Sept. 12, 2012, an order was issued by U.S. District Judge Kent J. Dawson moving the case from Nevada to Florida.

The Hard Rock's Boston location features a “Cavern Club” in its facilities that features billiards, live music and special events, according to its website. According to the Liverpool Cavern Club, the walls of the Boston Cavern Club are covered with memorabilia of rock bands including Aerosmith, Nirvana, Bon Jovi, Van Halen, The Grateful Dead and Donna Summer. It notes that none of those bands ever played at the Cavern Club in Liverpool.

‘It is absurd for a billiards room in Boston to be passed off as having anything whatsoever to do with the history and heritage of music’s most famous club in the world,’ said Liverpool Cavern Club director Dave Jones. “The Boston Hard Rock is also selling merchandise not only with the words 'Cavern Club' on it but also bearing an image of the facia of the real Cavern Club in Liverpool and an image of Beatles boots. It’s an outrageous insinuated claim to an association with fame that has nothing whatsoever to do with them.

“The Cavern in Liverpool is a historic British landmark and, for music, a world heritage site. The Beatles played at The Cavern 292 times, they didn’t play once at a billiards bar in Boston,” Jones says. The Liverpool Cavern Club says it is visited by more than 750,000 Beatles fans each year.

“If this dispute is not put right, perhaps in some decades’ time kids might be confused into believing that the four lads who actually changed the world from a cellar bar in Liverpool instead started out at a Hard Rock,” he says. “And that would be a travesty of history and a tragedy for music heritage. The Cavern doesn’t look for a fight. It’s not in our nature. But we owe it to every music lover on the planet to get this put right.”

In a lesser known Beatles connection, one of the Hard Rock's co-founders, Isaac Tigrett, began living with Ringo Starr's first wife, Maureen Starkey, in 1976, the year after her divorce to Ringo was finalized. Tigrett and Starkey were married in 1989 and he was her husband when she died in 1994. They had one child, Augusta.

The Hard Rock Cafe has not issued a statement in reply to the dispute. Requests to the Hard Rock Cafe's corporate offices for a comment on this story were not returned.

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