On March 5th, the long-lasting battle between 330 Music and Zhengyu Kou finally ended with a reconciliation statement on both of their Weibo accounts. Although it’s only a small earthquake within the music industry, the attention and impact it brought up are still worth the thinking.
The dispute started with a duplication of names between Beijing 330 Music Company (due to its more known name Three and A Half Music, it will be referred to as Three and a Half in this article) and Kou’s 330 Metal Music Festival. The two “330”s were created and developed separately but somehow crossed their paths because of a “fan’s choice awards” hosted by Three and A Half Music, which confused many fans. It probably wouldn’t be a problem if it was just a simple case with duplication of names. But now the case has developed into whether Three and A Half Music have unfairly profited from using 330 Metal Music Festival’s brand names.
In “Fan’s Choice Awards”, Three and A Half Music set up the poll system in a way that fans can pay for their favorite artists’ music, while all the money received will be transferred into the same amount of votes toward that specific artist in the poll. Many fans of the 330 Metal Music Festival and Kou’s were supporting the poll. When Kou clarified on Weibo that the award was not hosted by him, his fans felt like they were lied to about the owner of the award, and tried to get justice by making negative comments on Three and A Half Music’s Weibo.
Other than the fans, many artists also supported Kou by claiming that they had no idea about the poll and the award. They also deny Three and A Half Music’s words about receiving money from the poll.
Three and A Half Music believed that their behavior was completely reasonable and legal during this dispute. They believe that they are only “compiling and quoting the public information”, therefore had no obligation to notify the artists or bands. To respond to the artists’ claims on not receiving money, they said that only those artists and bands who are registered on their platform and have uploaded works can receive money and votes for the poll, meaning that those bands and artists who are not registered were not included in the poll from the beginning.
Three and A Half Music also believes that Kou and 330 Metal Music Festival are maliciously slandering.
This is not the first case in the industry that involves a dispute over names. The most recent one is the case between MiDi Music Festival and Shenzhen Window of the World attraction.
On June 2015, Shenzhen Window of the World hosted a “20th annual International Beer Festival”. In the promotion flyers, Window of the World used wording such as “MIDI Beer Festival”, “MIDI Outdoor Beer Festival”, etc. The fans claimed that the flyers were misleading and deceiving, and Window of the World has violated MiDi’s right to use its trademark.
The lawsuit lasted for three years. Finally, the court determined that Window of the World’s use of promotion slogan was unauthorized and has led to an Infringement of MiDi Music Festival’s trademark. It sentenced Window of the World 80,000 RMB as compensation to MiDi Music Festival.
Other than this case, Echo Park Music Festival also faced a charge from Echo App until it changed the name into Concrete & Grass Music Festival.
However, the case between Three and a Half Music and 330 Metal Music Festival is different.
The debut of 330 Metal Music Festival happened in 2002. The inspiration behind its name was the birthday of one of the oldest core Chinese Metal Music artist Zhengyu Kou (March 30th). After developing for over a decade, 330 Metal Music Festival was very well known within the metal music community in China with many loyal fans.
On the other hand, Three and A Half Music was a startup company that registered in 2014. According to Three and A Half Music (previously 330 Music), the inspiration of its name was from one of their stockholders from Hong Kong, “all the songs in the world, on average, are 3 minutes and 30 seconds long”. Ever since it was founded, its model of business has been gradually going towards the style of American independent music online sales platform — Bandcamp. This year’s “Fan’s Choice Awards” is the third annual award hosted by Three and A Half Music.
It’s very difficult to justify either side based on what they both claimed. However, we have noticed a small detail in this dispute. Kou’s 330 Metal Music Festival was registered as “330 MUSIC FESTIUAL” (spelled correctly) in the Trademark Office by Pilot Music, a company that Kou used to be in. The Chinese trademark and its English title were both registered separately in 2015 and 2014.
From the information that we received from a couple different searching engines, neither of the trademarks mentioned above finished the application process. But according to the trademark regulation, as long as a trademark registration application was accepted by the office with a return receipt, no one else is allowed to register the same trademark afterward.
Aside from how the trademark was registered, it was already a mystery why a brand would wait until 2014 to register its trademark when its founded in 2002.
The music industry in China has been through a pretty dark era at the beginning of 2000. That period of time was full of unregulated operations, copyright infringement, etc., for over a decade, which led to a lack of knowledge and awareness on self-protection from many musicians in the industry. One of the examples happened in the related product market. In 2016, Lei Zhao’s workshop reported an online retail store on Taobao named “Jim Resturant Livehoue”. He said that this online store used his headshot and works without his authorization and have mass produced so-called “same related products for Lei Zhao” to get profit. More ridiculously, this store registered copyrights for some of Zhao’s original design on related products.
Back to the dispute between Three and a Half Music and 330 Metal Music festival, the lack of protection on Kou’s own brand has definitely complicated the situation. It also put them in a less reasonable position to argue. It’s understandable for Three and a Half Music to promote their music and support the artists. However, after this dispute, Three and a Half lost a whole group of metal music fans.
If you are wondering who is right and who is wrong in this case, it’s probably very difficult to get an answer. Under this not very well established entertainment law system, it would be hard to give either side of the fans a good explanation or solution. However, from how the dispute developed, it would be difficult to ignore the power of the fans on any future cases like this one.
Translated by Paris Wu
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