Is Kid Rock on a collision course with Ringling Bros. and Barnum & Bailey Circus?
On Tuesday, Rock announced his 2018 “The Greatest Show on Earth” tour — if that name sounds familiar it’s because “The Greatest Show on Earth” is the longtime tagline to the 150-year-old circus that stopped touring earlier this year after decades on the road under the ownership of Feld Entertainment. Feld still owns the circus’ intellectual property, including the tagline for “The Greatest Show on Earth” which it first registered as a trademark in 1960 and continues to hold until this day.
“It does sound like an infringement of their trademark — if Feld were smart they would license it because if they don’t take action they risk losing it,” explained music and intellectual property attorney Steven Lowy with firm Isaacman, Kaufman and Painter in Los Angeles. “It’s a strong mark that has been recognized over time. You start allowing other people to use it and suddenly every tour is calling itself ‘The Greatest Show on Earth.'”
The news that Rock had appropriated the tagline came as a surprise to Feld officials, who didn’t know about the tour name until yesterday, Amplify has learned. Feld officials are now consulting with their IP attorneys and weighing their options on how to proceed.
Attorneys for Feld could try and enforce their trademark protection of the name — they own the rights for the use of the phrase for “entertainment; sporting and cultural activities” — and either try and force Rock to change the name of his tour, or force him to pay a license for his use of the name on the Live Nation-backed tour.
While the news caught Feld by surprise, the initial reaction has been tampered a bit by the realities of touring. Kid Rock’s tour is promoted by Live Nation, which has partnered with Feld for a number of years. Feld uses Live Nation’s ticketing platform Ticketmaster and regularly brings its shows to Live Nation buildings, including facilities that have booking deals with the concert promotion giant. Any financial battle over Kid Rock’s use of the phrase must be viewed in the context of the larger business relationship between both companies. (We reached out to Rock’s camp but didn’t receive a response by press time. Live Nation officials also did not return a request for comment).
The Trademark issue also exposes a new challenge for Feld — continuing to protect the intellectual property of the circus, months and eventually years after Feld ended the circus’ century-and-a-half long run. In January, CEO Kenneth Feld announced he was taking the circus off the road following the 2015 announcement to phase out elephants from the show. Feld continues to tour other properties across North America including Disney on Ice, Sesame Street Live, Marvel Universe and Monster Jam and controls the intellectual property of “The Greatest Show on Earth,” which many believe retains significant value considering the amount of archived video and material created by Ringling Bros. and Barnum & Bailey Circus and the continued interest for the circus around the world.
“They really do have to police their rights or they will risk losing them by allowing them to be diluted,” explained Lowy, who said Feld will likely have a significant legal advantage since Rock is infringing on the phrase with his tour announcement and liable for damages that could include surrendering a portion of the tour profits.
“They would be smart to enforce the mark and enter into a confidential license agreement,” Lowy said, “It may require some disclosure of association to protect the trademark. Kid Rock and Live Nation have been around for a number of years, but the circus and phrase ‘Greatest Show on Earth’ have been around much longer.”