A California appellate court has upheld a $3.2 million false advertising verdict rendered against two former members of The Doors rock band for touring as The Doors in recent years without the full band’s consent, and for displaying unauthorized images of former lead singer Jim Morrison.

The appeals court upheld a trial court’s finding that former band members Raymond Manzarek and Robert Krieger had violated California’s Business & Professions Code section 17500’s prohibition against false or misleading advertising by displaying The Doors logo in marketing and advertising, and by using The Doors name. They also violated Morrison’s right of publicity, the court determined.

“The trial court found that the advertising was false. It was false because the advertising stated that appellant’s band was The Doors. But this was not true,” stated the appellate court. See Densmore v. Manzarek, et al., No. BC 289730 (Cal. App. May 26, 2008). “Appellant’s band was just that. i.e., a band composed of appellants and one other person, but it was not The Doors.”

Original Agreement

The Doors were one of the seminal bands of the late 1960s, with break-out hits such as “Light My Fire,” “L.A. Woman” and “Riders on the Storm.” The four original members, John Densmore, Morrison, Manzarek and Krieger, agreed from the beginning to require unanimous consent as to the use of The Doors name and logo. On Morrison’s insistence, the band opposed most advertising deals. After Morrison died in 1971, the remaining band members revised their agreement under substantially the same terms.

The Doors put out two albums after Morrison’s death, but the band did not did not enjoy the same success as they had before his death and ceased producing new works. However, they continued to earn royalties from the band’s enduring popularity. Harley-Davidson invited The Doors to play a reunification concert for the company’s 100th anniversary, and Manzarek and Krieger performed with former members of the Cult and Police. Densmore did not join the effort but did not object.

Following the success of that concert, Manzarek and Krieger set out to create a tour with the new foursome. Densmore put the two on notice that he objected to use of The Doors name without some alteration, and suggested calling themselves “The 21st Century Doors.” He also requested they refrain from using the band’s original logo.

When the new band began marketing and advertising for its tour, it did indeed use the Doors old logo, and used the name The Doors in large typeface, with the words, “21st Century” in smaller print. Merchandising carried The Doors name. Morrison’s voice singing Doors songs was used in advertising for the band in several cities on the tour, and Jim Morrison’s image was briefly displayed at the beginning of concerts.

Band Break-Up

Densmore expressed his displeasure with these arrangements, and when the new band refused to make alterations to suit him, he terminated The Doors’ existing agreement and sued. Members of Morrison’s estate joined in the suit as well.

The trial, which took place in 2004, was long and complex, and involved portions heard by a jury, as well as portions determined by the court itself, sitting in equity. The jury rejected several claims brought by the plaintiffs, including Lanham Act trademark and unfair competition claims. The jury did find, however, that Manzarek and Krieger had breached the band’s agreement, and had violated Morrison’s postmortem right of publicity.

The trial court determined that equitable relief for these findings would be disgorgement of profits. In addition, the court found the use of the name “The Doors” violated section 17500, and enjoined Manzarek and Krieger from holding themselves out as The Doors in the future.

The appellate court upheld the trial court on all counts, citing the trial court’s conclusion:

‘“By engaging in advertising which prominently displayed the logo of The Doors, in The Doors’ well-known type font, and minimizing in a different font the words ‘21st Century’ or ‘of the 21st Century,’ coupled with the use of the outtake photograph from [The Doors’] Strange Days album cover, and further permitting the dissemination of radio and television ads … that identified the band as The Doors …, the [appellants] have engaged in false advertising.’”

The appellate court also upheld the finding that Morrison’s right to publicity had been violated by the use of his image. The court rejected the defendant’s argument that their use of his image in their concerts was a “transformative” work of art and therefore was protected under the First Amendment.

“[E]xploiting Morrison was certainly ‘transformative’; it transformed appellants’ band of 2003/2004 into The Doors,” the appellate court stated. “But that is not the kind of transformation” courts refer to in extending First Amendment protection to original works that make use of celebrity images, the court said.

Why This Matters: The decision emphasizes that members of a proprietary group must be careful as to how they market their past membership in that group in future endeavors.