A settlement has been reached between various members of the classic L.A. GUNS lineup over the rights to the band's name.
In January 2020, L.A. GUNS guitarist Tracii Guns and vocalist Phil Lewis filed a complaint in California District Court against their longtime former bandmate, drummer Steve Riley. Joining Riley as defendants in the case were the three musicians — including "classic-era" L.A. GUNS bassist Kelly Nickels — who perform in his recently launched rival version of L.A. GUNS; that group's manager, booking agent and merchandiser; and Australia's Golden Robot Records, which recently released the debut album from Riley's version of the group.
The complaint, which requested a trial by jury, alleged that Riley's version of L.A. GUNS (referred to in the case docket as "the infringing L.A. GUNS") was creating "unfair competition" through its unauthorized usage of the L.A. GUNS trademark. In addition, Guns and Lewis were seeking relief from and/or against false advertising, breach of contract and unauthorized usage of their likenesses.
Earlier today (Friday, April 23), attorneys representing Guns, Lewis and Riley issued the following statement regarding the out-of-court resolution of the issue: "Plaintiffs Tracii Guns and Philip Lewis and defendants Stephen Riley, Kelly Nickels, Kurt Frolich, and Scott Griffin have agreed to settle the trademark litigation currently pending in the U.S. District Court in the Central District of California. Under the terms of the settlement agreement, the parties have agreed to dismiss the pending lawsuit. Mr. Guns and Mr. Lewis will continue to operate under the 'L.A. GUNS' trademark, while Mr. Riley and his bandmates will now operate under the new name, 'RILEY'S L.A. GUNS' and a new logo. Both bands look forward to continuing to record and perform their new music, as well as continuing to include songs from the vintage L.A. GUNS catalog for their fans. Both groups' recordings will continue to appear together on Spotify and other digital music streaming services."
At its core, Guns and Lewis's original complaint called into question Riley's claim of partial ownership of the L.A. GUNS name and logo and alleged that his usage of both had been unauthorized. In addition, Guns and Lewis claimed — as Guns had done publicly in the past — that Riley had embezzled much of the group's publishing proceeds over the past two decades.
Despite leaving the band soon after the release of 2002's "Waking The Dead" to focus on BRIDES OF DESTRUCTION (his short-lived supergroup with MÖTLEY CRÜE bassist Nikki Sixx), Guns "is the owner of common law trademark righs" for the L.A. GUNS name and logo, the complaint claimed. It noted that Guns founded the band in 1983, four years before Riley joined, and that Riley did not perform on the group's 1984 debut EP and contributed to just a single track on their 1987 self-titled full-length debut.
According to the complaint, Riley was fired from L.A. GUNS in 1992 for "assaulting" Lewis. He rejoined in 1996 after Lewis temporarily left the group. That same year, the complaint stated that a company formed and controlled by Riley began to "collect performance and mechanical royalties of the L.A. GUNS albums and performances," but has since failed to pay out any of the "over $200,000" in royalties collected from "just one record label, as well as additional amounts from other sources."
Three years later, the complaint said that, "purporting to 'help' Guns protect the name of the band bearing Guns's own name," Riley registered a federal trademark for the L.A. GUNS name and logo — but now, two decades later, Guns claimed that the "Stephen Riley and Traci [sic] Guns Partnership" "is not and was never a valid entity." "No such partnership was ever formed," the complaint alleged. "Guns never agreed to share ownership of the L.A. GUNS trademark with Riley or any such partnership." In addition, the complaint stated that Guns "never agreed to allowed Riley to share ownership of the" L.A. GUNS trademark despite Riley's contention that he owned 49 percent of the rights.
"Guns never intended to convey any ownership interest to Riley (or any partnership) in the L.A. GUNS mark," the complaint stated. "Riley and Guns had no written partnership agreement, nor did they have an oral partnership agreement, nor did they act in a manner consistent with the intent to create a partnership pertaining to the ownership of any L.A. GUNS mark."
The complaint further said that the "Stephen Riley and Traci [sic] Guns Partnership" never registered a fictitious business name, as required under California law; never filed a tax return; has no bank accounts; and had no accounting records of any kind.
Interestingly, the complaint acknowledged Guns's 2002 departure from the group, but described it as "a brief hiatus from live performances and recording new music." It also stipulated that Guns "initially agreed to allow Riley to continue to tour and perform" as L.A. GUNS, but only for a two-year period, after which Guns would return to the group.
"However, shortly thereafter, Guns discovered that Riley had embezzled and/or converted royalties due and owing to Guns and other performers and songwriters," the complaint alleged. At that point, Guns allegedly "revoked Riley's license to use" the L.A. GUNS name.
It was because of this "falling out," the complaint said, that Guns "was not interested in rejoining" his own band, at which point he formed a competing version of the group. Still, the complaint alleged that because Guns founded the band and is its most recognizable member, any other version of L.A. GUNS should be considered "unauthorized" and "infringing."
"The Tracii Guns version of L.A. GUNS is the real version of the band in the public's mind," the complaint claimed. "When the public goes to see L.A. GUNS or thinks they are going to see L.A. GUNS, they go to see the band containing its namesake... and they go to hear the signature voice of Lewis, who recorded the lead vocals on nearly every L.A. GUNS album. They do not go to hear Riley, a drummer who, though [he] admittedly played on a number of L.A. GUNS albums, is neither the face nor the sound of L.A. GUNS."
The complaint also stated that Riley in 2015 received an advance of $13,750 from merchandiser Epic Rights, a company to which he purportedly claimed to be "the sole and exclusive owner" of the L.A. GUNS trademark.
According to the complaint, Guns had "been injured by Defendants' unfair competition," while he and Lewis had "suffered harm including damages and and irreparable injury to their goodwill." It also claimed that Riley's L.A. GUNS was formed "with the intent of tricking and confusing consumers into believing that the infringing L.A. GUNS band is the original [Tracii] Guns version" of the group.
In addition to actual and punitive damages, Guns and Lewis were seeking a "permanent injunction" that restrained all of the named defendants from using the L.A. GUNS name, logo and likeness, as well as "a declaration that Guns is the sole owner of the common law trademark rights" for the L.A. GUNS moniker "and any related design marks."
For much of the 21st Century, there have been two competing versions of L.A. GUNS — one featuring Riley (which, until 2016, also included Lewis), and another featuring Guns. After Guns and Lewis reunited in 2016, Riley's version of the group disbanded, but the former W.A.S.P. drummer relaunched a new version in 2019 with Nickels, guitarist Scott Griffin and vocalist/guitarist Kurt Frohlich. The group released its Golden Robot debut, "Renegades", last November.