Monday, November 28, 2022 | Back issues
Courthouse News Service Courthouse News Service

Judge Advances Guitarist’s Claim Over ‘Jefferson Starship’ Name

The former lead guitarist for Jefferson Starship can move forward with part of a lawsuit trying to stop his former bandmates from using the group’s name, a federal judge ruled Friday.

SAN FRANCISCO (CN) – The former lead guitarist for Jefferson Starship can move forward with part of a lawsuit trying to stop his former bandmates from using the group’s name, a federal judge ruled Friday.

The name Jefferson Starship was officially retired in 1985, but Craig Chaquico claims original members David Freiberg and Donny Baldwin still use the name to tour and sell merchandise, even using Chaquico's likeness to advertise and promote ticket sales to live performances without compensating him. Chaquico says this is confusing to concertgoers, who may think he endorses its current iteration.

U.S. Magistrate Judge Maria Elena James said Chaquico may pursue part of his contract claim against Baldwin and Freiberg, but only as to breaches that occurred after 2016 when fellow member Paul Kantner died.

Kantner formed with fellow Jefferson Airplane member Grace Slick in 1974. Chaquico was part of Jefferson Starship’s original lineup.

When Kantner left the band in 1984, he took legal action to block his former bandmates from continuing to use the Jefferson Starship name. That led to a 1985 agreement in which the band’s remaining members, including Chaquico, Freiberg and Baldwin, agreed to retire the name.

The agreement also allowed the band to continue performing and releasing albums as Starship. That lineup went on to earn Grammy Award nominations in the late 1980s for “We Built This City” and “Nothing’s Gonna Stop Us Now,” the latter of which also earned Golden Globe and Academy Award nominations for its inclusion in the 1987 film “Mannequin.”

After Chaquico left Starship in 1990, Kantner started touring with a new band of musicians and using the name Jefferson Starship again, despite the 1985 agreement.

In 1993, Chaquico struck a new agreement with Kantner giving him and only him permission to use the Jefferson Starship name for live performances and merchandise, according to the lawsuit.

“Chaquico granted Kantner permission to use the name because of their prior close relationship arising from Kantner’s original invitation to join Jefferson Starship, the fact that Kantner created the name originally, and Chaquico’s belief that Kantner would preserve and honor the legacy of the band’s music,” the complaint states.

Chaquico’s former bandmates Freinberg and Baldwin later joined Kantner’s new Jefferson Starship lineup in 2005 and 2008, respectively, according to the suit.

When Kantner died in January 2016, Chaquico says the permission he granted for the use of the Jefferson Starship name expired.

On Friday, James said Freiberg and Baldwin were not subject to Chaquico's 1993 agreement with Kantner.

“When Freiberg and Baldwin joined Kantner's Jefferson Starship lineup, their use of the Jefferson Starship name was related to Kantner' use. Their use of the Jefferson Starship did not give rise to any claim by plaintiff at that point,” James wrote.

But she refused to dismiss the claim over Freiberg's and Baldwin's use of the name after Kantner died.

James also dismissed Chaquico's Lanham Act claim for use of his likeness, finding his assertion that it creates a false impression lacking in detail.

“The [First Amended Complaint] is devoid of allegations explaining how the advertisements create the misimpression that plaintiff sponsors, endorses, or is affiliated with the current Jefferson Starship. For instance, plaintiff does not describe how defendants use his image or the context in which it is shown,” she wrote.

“As such, there are no facts that explain how defendants' use of his image explicitly misleads consumers or why plaintiff believes the public (much less fans who are more likely to be familiar with the history of Jefferson Starship and its multiple iterations) is confused about his relationship with the current band. Plaintiff therefore fails to set forth facts that defendants' advertisements create an explicitly misleading description of the current Jefferson Starship.”

James granted Chaquico leave to amend his claim to provide more details on how Freiberg and Baldwin's use of his likeness is misleading.

In an email, Chacquio's attorney David Swift said he's pleased with the ruling overall, despite disagreeing with James on the trademark issue.

“We are thrilled that the court rejected defendants’ statute of limitations argument and allowed Mr. Chaquico to proceed with his core claim against David Freiberg and Donny Baldwin for their unauthorized and improper use of the name Jefferson Starship in violation of their written agreement to not do so,” he said.

“It is important to Mr. Chaquico to protect the legacy of Jefferson Starship by preventing unauthorized bands, like defendants in the case, from using the iconic name,” Swift said. “And while we respectfully disagree with the court’s Lanham Act analysis, we are pleased that the court provided Mr. Chaquico with the opportunity to plead further details regarding defendants’ misleading and unauthorized use of his image.”

Hillel Frankel, one of the attorneys for Freiberg and Baldwin from the firm Leavens, Strand and Glover in Chicago, said by phone, "We’re pleased that the court recognized the plaintiff’s Lanham claim lacked merit and we look forward to the opportunity to prevail on the remaining claim."

Read the Top 8

Sign up for the Top 8, a roundup of the day's top stories delivered directly to your inbox Monday through Friday.