“We got a cease-and-desist letter over the title of our album The Complete Idiot’s Guide to Morality," said Aaron Spaulding of a Conscious Few. “The CD came out last October , and we just got the letter last week.”
Dated June 2009, the notice from the NYC law firm of Von Maltitz, Derenberg, Kunin, Janssen & Giordano says their client, Penguin Books, “strongly objects to your unauthorized use of its registered trademark The Complete Idiot’s Guide," presenting two federal trademark registration numbers to back up its assertion of ownership. Both of the registered marks are applicable to commerce involving “a series of non-fiction books” – neither mark is pertinent to recorded music.
However, the letter further alleges that the band’s CD cover is “a point-by-point counterfeit of our client’s well-known trademark…[with] the same blue capital letters, in the same type style and layout,” right down to the “orange rectangle with the same proportions, orientation, and cover location” as the Penguin books.
Which is true; the album even uses a similar orange border. “We looked at it as a parody,” says Spaulding. “They didn’t have to come off like bullies, with a big New York law firm. There are maybe 100 to 150 of the CDs out there. It cost us $2500 to press 1000, so we still have boxes of them.”
According to Penguin Group (USA) Inc, its Complete Idiot’s Guide series debuted 15 years ago, with sales averaging around 1.25 million print and ebooks last year. Complete Idiots have been Guided through topics like World Religions, Understanding Ethics, Peer Pressure for Teens, and music subjects like Arranging and Orchestration; Theory, History, Songwriting; and Playing the Guitar.
The legal salvo fired across the reggae band’s bow gives them until July 30 to provide “written assurance that you will promptly cease all use of our client’s trademark and trade dress.” Though parody has long-established legal protections that tend to trump trademarks, Spaulding says, “We’ll go along, it’s not worth getting sued. We’ll probably take them off CB Baby, iTunes, and Amazon, and just give them away as promotional items.”
In October 2009, the band changed the album title to Cease and Desist. In 2011, bassist Aaron Spaulding formed a new heavy rock band with former members of October Burning and the Human Abstract, whose old vocalist Nate Ells had recently moved to San Diego from Nashville.