1492057345758 - Modern Maori Quartet win rights to their own name

Modern Maori Quartet win rights to their own name

They are known for their “modern take on Maori classics” and having forged a name for themselves, they didn’t want to give it up.

But the Modern Maori Quartet had to take on an unusual legal battle to keep their name.

The Intellectual Property Office of New Zealand (IPONZ) has ruled that the band has the right to keep their name – despite opposition from their former manager.

Court documents show the Quartet applied for a trademark on the name Modern Maori Quartet, held by their former manager Teresa Brown, to be made invalid.

Maaka Pohatu, James Tito, Matariki Whatarau​, Matu Ngaropo​ and Francis Kora (who joined as an alternate member in 2013) of the quartet argued the trademark was an act of bad faith.

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The band formed in 2010 and played modernised versions of the classic tunes of the Maori showbands of the 1950s and 60s.

In 2012, they approached Teresa Brown to come on board as their manager despite her inexperience in the field.

Before Brown joined them, they did not have a name and it wasn’t until a meeting with Brown in November that year that they discussed what they would be known as. 

In June 2012, Brown had initially suggested ‘The Modern Maori Quartet’ in June of that year and had been using that as a working title, with the band’s knowledge. 

In the meeting they also agreed that any takings would be split five ways, 20 per cent each for each of the original four members and 20 per cent for Brown. 

In September 2013, Brown sent the members contracts to sign, which redefined her role from manager to creative producer for their showcase Nga Bro e Wha.

The following week Brown followed up with the members telling them she had established a company Brown Power Limited, as a way of separating her personal finances from the group.

In emails provided to the Intellectual Property Office, Brown had said “We are not operating this production [Nga Bro e Wha] as a co-operative i.e joint risk/gain model.”

She then added that instead of the original agreement of five equal shares of the profit, the group would instead receive $850 a week and all money from the show would go straight to her for her new business. 

The quartet tried to reach a resolution with Brown before their showcase however no understanding was reached.

Shortly after the Nga Bro e Wha showcase in October 2013 the quartet ended its relationship with Brown, who made it clear she owned the name The Modern Maori Quartet.

In an email on February 27 2014, Brown stated: “so you guys either have to rebrand or pay me for the use of the name.”

Shortly after parting ways with Brown, the quartet found new management under Yee Yang ‘Square’ Lee at WhySquare Limited.

Lee discovered in March of 2014 that Brown had trade marked Modern Maori Quartet in December 2013, a month after the quartet and Brown had parted ways.

Expert industry evidence argued Brown had no right to trademark the name.

Music manager Lorraine Barry – known for her long-time association with Dave Dobbyn – said she would never assume ownership of the name of a band, except in the circumstance where she had put the band together herself.

However as the group had formed before meeting Brown, Barry said: “the artists own the name, irrespective of whether the manager came up with the name or they did”.

This sentiment was shared by Alex Lee (entertainment lawyer), Adam Holt (Chairman of Universal Music NZ and director of Recorded Music NZ) and Teresa Patterson (chairperson of the New Zealand Music Managers’ Forum).

Holt said that in 35 years he had never heard of a manager, hired by an act, trying to claim rights to a band’s name. 

Patterson also said that the fact Brown suggested the name was irrelevant because industry practice was that an artist owned the name.

This evidence was used to argued Brown had no true claim over the name and so could not have registered a trademark as she was not its true proprietor.

IPONZ found that as Brown had filed the trade mark application after parting ways with the quartet, it was made in bad faith.

“There was no possible commercially fair and reasonable use she could have made of the mark and that the sole value of the trademark to Ms Brown was as a bargaining chip”.

On March 9 2017, the trade mark was found invalid and Brown was ordered to pay Modern Maori Quartet Limited $3,430 in indemnity costs.

Brown was given 20 working days under section 170 of the Trade Marks Act 2002 to appeal the decision.