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Alt Hip-Hop Band Must Arbitrate Dispute

LOS ANGELES (CN) - Members of the hip-hop band The Pharcyde must arbitrate a legal wrangle over use of its name, a federal judge ruled.

The Pharcyde formed in South Central Los Angeles in 1989. It released its first and best-known album, "Bizarre Ride II the Pharcyde" in 1992 on Delicious Vinyl Records.

Romye Robinson, Imani Wilcox, Trevant Hardson and Derrick Stewart performed under the names Bootie Brown, Emandu Wilcox, Slimkid3 and Fatlip, respectively.

In 1997, Stewart left and The Pharcyde amended its recording contract with Delicious Vinyl. The group continued as a trio until Hardson's departure in the summer of 1999.

Though Hardson and the remaining members of the group entered into a settlement and disassociation agreement, Robinson and Wilcox alleged in a 2013 lawsuit that Hardson and Stewart had breached agreements by performing under the Pharcyde name.

Besides the settlement agreement and recording contract, a touring agreement between was also at issue in the lawsuit, which named Hardson, Stewart and Delicious Vinyl as defendants.

In 2008, Robinson, Wilcox, Stewart, and Hardson drew up a contract as they briefly reunited for a reunion tour. That agreement made clear that the Pharcyde mark belonged to them, Robinson and Wilcox alleged.

Then in 2012, Delicious promoted a "Bizarre Ride II the Pharcyde" tour to coincide with the re-release of the group's first album.

The lineup for the shows included Hardson, Stewart and producers J-Swift and LA Jay. Though the group was ostensibly named Bizarre Ride Live, the plaintiffs claimed that advertisements for the shows used the Pharcyde name.

U.S. District Judge Christina Snyder on Aug. 1, 2013 issued an injunction barring Hardson and Delicious Vinyl records from using The Pharcyde name and "Bizarre Ride II the Pharcyde" marks.

"Defendants must ensure that their performances on the Bizarre Ride Live Tour are not promoted as 'Pharcyde' shows in a manner likely to cause consumer confusion," Snyder wrote in her 12-page order. "Based on the evidence adduced thus far, defendants' actions in ensuring that third-parties comply with defendants' own mandates for marketing their Bizarre Ride Live Tour have been insufficient."

After partially granting Hardson and Stewart's motion to dismiss, the plaintiffs filed a first amended complaint late last year.

In September, Hardson asked the judge to compel arbitration of the dispute under terms of the parties' settlement and disassociation agreement.

On Monday, Judge Snyder held a hearing and issued an order, ruling the settlement agreement covers Robinson and Wilcox's claims for trademark infringement, violation of right of publicity, unfair enrichment and eight other counts.

Robinson and Wilcox tried to persuade the judge that passing the case to arbitrator would result in "inconsistent" rulings.

But Snyder said in her Oct. 20 order that she was not persuaded.

The court already had issued an order that terminated sanctions against Stewart, therefore "any inconsistency with regard to Stewart is moot," the judge wrote.

Claims against Delicious Vinyl Records involved the 1997 amendment to the recording contract and are unrelated to the parties' settlement and dissociation agreement, Snyder added.

"Although eleven of the claims that will be arbitrated with respect to Hardson are also asserted against DVI [Delicious Vinyl Records], the rights of DVI and Hardson to use plaintiffs' intellectual property appear to be governed by separate contracts," the judge wrote.

Snyder added that "evidence similar to that presented in arbitration" will probably decide an allegation that Hardson breached the 2008 tour agreement.

"The court is not convinced that this requires denial of Hardson's motion," the judge wrote.

It seems likely the parties will seek to delay further proceedings until an arbitrator decides the matter. Snyder told the parties to meet and discuss whether they would like the court to issue a stay.

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