In astronomy, one supernova doesn't normally compete with another because, after all, the universe is big enough for both of them. But not so in show business, according to a lawsuit filed by Supernova, an obscure Orange County rock band, against "Rock Star: Supernova," the CBS reality television show featuring famed rock drummer Tommy Lee.
The indie band, which was formed by three Costa Mesa friends in 1989, wants to make sure that CBS and Mark Burnett Productions, creators of the show, do not use the name Supernova for any new band that emerges from the program. The Orange County trio claims in its federal lawsuit that CBS Broadcasting and Mark Burnett Productions are violating its trademark and engaging in unfair competition.
"It's frustrating," said Dave Collins, Supernova's drummer who now practices corporate law in Orange County. "You put a lot of hard work into your band. You put out records, you tour, and then someone comes along and takes your name."
An attorney for Burnett said the lawsuit was "completely without merit," adding that the program's producers had obtained all the necessary legal rights to the name. In addition, said attorney Gary Hecker, the Orange County band had disbanded in the 1990s.
"They were defunct before our show announcement," Hecker said Monday. "Their lawsuit is less credible than Ashlee Simpson's 'Saturday Night Live' performance."
Collins conceded that his band took a break in 1999 so he could finish law school, among other reasons. But the band is alive and started performing again in May. It recorded three albums in the 1990s, which are still available, and its tune "Chewbacca" appeared on the soundtrack of the 1994 cult movie "Clerks."
The CBS reality show features Motley Crue drummer Lee, former Metallica bassist Jason Newsted and former Guns n' Roses guitarist Gilby Clarke, who are also all named as defendants. Fifteen contestants are vying to be the band's lead vocalist.
The original lawsuit was filed June 27 in U.S. District Court for the Southern District of California in San Diego. But Hecker said Monday that the defendants had not yet been served.
The delay, explained the plaintiff's attorney, John Mizhir Jr., came because the O.C. band had been in negotiations with Burnett and CBS to try to settle the matter. After the two sides reached an impasse, Mizhir said, the complaint was served Friday along with the band's petition for a preliminary injunction to order the TV producers to stop using the name Supernova alone.
"They were unwilling to change the name, plain and simple," said Mizhir. "The law doesn't look at who's bigger. It says who's got trademark rights and who doesn't."
Mizhir's co-counsel in the case is nationally recognized trademark expert Anthony L. Fletcher.
The legal fuss may not have any immediate effect on the CBS program. The court action is aimed only at the resulting band, Mizhir said.
And even then, it would be OK with the original Supernova if the new band used Supernova in its name, along with something else.
As a fallout from the conflict, Collins says, My Space recently pulled the plug on its website, Supernova_army, leaving 5,000 of their friends out in the cold.
The suit asks for punitive and compensatory damages. But all the plaintiffs want, they say, is their name protected.
Perhaps caution is due: The winner of this legal flap will get to keep the astronomical name for a star that becomes so big it explodes, and quickly fades away.