NorCal Brewer Can’t Dodge Suit Over Thelonious Monk Ale

This still of North Coast Brewing was taken from a promotional video for the company.

SAN FRANCISCO (CN) – The son of acclaimed jazz musician Thelonious Monk scored a small victory in federal court Wednesday when a judge refused to dismiss a lawsuit claiming a Northern California brewer used his father’s name and likeness to sell beer-themed merchandise without permission.

Thelonious Monk Jr., son of the late pianist and composer who pioneered the bee-bop style of jazz, sued North Coast Brewing Company in August 2017. Monk claims the Fort Bragg-based brewer violated a verbal contract by using his father’s name and image in beer-themed cups, hoodies, mouse pads and other products without consent.

Monk says prior to 2011, he agreed to let North Coast Brewing use his father’s name to sell Brother Thelonious Belgian Style Abbey Ale in exchange for donating part of the profits to the Thelonious Monk Institute of Jazz.

But since then, Monk claims, the brewer violated their verbal pact by also selling soaps, playing cards, signs and other merchandise without his permission.

On Wednesday, U.S. District Judge Haywood Gilliam Jr. refused to dismiss the suit, finding it “more than plausible” that Monk has “a right ‘to control the commercial value and exploitation’ of Monk’s persona, and to ‘prevent others from unfairly appropriating this value for commercial benefit,” citing the 1994 Third Circuit ruling in McFarland v. Miller.

In an email, Monk’s attorney Joel Rothman, of the Schneider Rothman Intellectual Property Law Group, said he and his client were “obviously pleased” with the ruling.

North Coast Brewing Company attorney Evan Boetticher, of McDermott Will Emery in Menlo Park, did not immediately return a phone call seeking comment Wednesday.

The lawsuit alleges trademark infringement, violation of New Jersey’s common law right of publicity and unjust enrichment. Monk seeks damages and an injunction banning further sales of unauthorized merchandise.

Thelonious Monk died in New Jersey on Feb. 17, 1982, at the age of 64. His son was then appointed administrator of his estate.

North Coast Brewing Company, located in coastal town of Fort Bragg in Mendocino County, first released its Brother Thelonious ale in 2006, according to its website. Since then, the company says it has donated more than $1 million to the Thelonious Monk Institute of Jazz.

With an alcohol content of 9.4 percent, the dark, Trappist-style ale won a gold medal in the European Beer Star competition in 2015 and a silver medal in the 2006 World Beer Championships in Chicago, according to the North Coast Brewing Company website.

 

 

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