Battle of the Blues Hall of Fames
With the Blues Foundation new Push to open a Blues Hall of Fame in Memphis (www.blues.org) there has been a growing rift between them and the owners of www.blueshalloffame.com . Legal proceedings concerning the trademark “Blues Hall of Fame” and general distrust between the two parties, have led to confusion over who is doing what, why and when. Blueshalloffame.com puts on induction events that are confused with events put on by the Blues Foundation and their “Raise the Roof” imitative to create a Blues Hall of Fame in Memphis.I figured it was time to layout the difference between these to “entites” and we look at the issues at hand, so people would be able to identify who is doing what and why.
Who are they?
The first thing we need to do is find out who these two factions are, Identify the major differences in a clear and concise manner. This is the first step in understanding what the issues are and why they have come to a general mistrust between the two parties and current trademark litigation.
The Blues foundation is a 501c3 non for Profit Corporation. For those who are unfamiliar what the means, let me explain it for you. A “Corporation” can get a 501(c)3 status from the IRS which gives you the status as a nonprofit organization, which means you are exempt from federal income tax and donations to the corporations and tax deductable. To be eligible for a 501(C)3 status your corporation must engage one of the following purposes: charitable, religious, educational, scientific, literary, testing for public safety, fostering amateur sports competition, or preventing cruelty to children or animals. The fact that any organization holds this designation puts it under both public and government scrutiny. The process to become a non for profit is a long and involved process. You have to incorporate your organization (and that includes filing fees, legal fees, etc), create a board of directors, write a set of Bylaws, have a meeting schedule (which should be run under Roberts rule of order), keep minuets of the meeting and most of all keep a meticulous accounting of every penny that comes in and every penny that goes out, and of course they have to create programs that fulfill their mission. Every year they have to submit and publish to the public their IRS Filing (Form 990). Starting and running a non for profit is not for the faint of heart and the Blues Foundation has been doing it for over 30 years.
If you want to see all the 990 documentation on the Blues Foundation you can view them at http://www.guidestar.org/D/organizations/62-1083757/blues-foundation.aspx
The Blues Foundation’s membership consists of not only individual members, but also other non for profit blues societies across the world. Over the years the Blues foundation has created many programs and events to further their mission.
International Blues Challenge (IBC)- For about 30 years the Blues Foundation has held an international Blues competition in Memphis on Beale street. Entries from all over the world come to Memphis to compete in this challenge. To be eligible for the IBC each blues society must hold a competition in their respective areas and the winner of the competition will move on to the IBC competition in Memphis. Only Member Blues societies are allowed to participate in the IBC.
The idea is to create awareness of the blues throughout the country by holding these individual competitions. It also brings tourism into Memphis during a historically slow tourist season. And if you are going to be honest, most of the entries in the IBC are what you would refer as “Weekend Warrior” type blues bands. The kind of bands that the members all have day jobs and the prospect of going on the road and doing the work needed to play blues full time is not, well, a reality. This is not to say that some great Blues talents were not discovered at the IBC. In over 30 years of the IBC here are some bands have come through it, Susan Tedeschi (Who didn’t win), Trampled Under Foot (which believe it or not was in the same club as JPBlues (an artist I represent) when they won) and Joey Gilmore to name a few. But let’s face it, the mission of the IBC is not so much to discover the next big thing in Blues, but to foster an awareness of the genre throughout the world.
Also in recent years it has IBC has opened up a new category in its competition. The Youth division now showcases young (under 21) blues artists and their interpretation of the Blues. This is, I believe, a very positive move.
Blues Music Awards – Started in 1980 as the WC Handy (Handy) awards, they have become the benchmark award for the working, touring and recording blues artist. The name was changed in 2006 to bring more awareness to the blues genre and according to Offbeat magazine they are, “universally recognized as the highest accolade afforded musicians and songwriters in Blues music.”. The awards are broken down into several categories and is voted on by its members from a list of nominees. The Awards are then given at a star studded gala held by the Blues Foundation. It has become over the years the who’s who gathering of anyone who is anyone in the blues community.
Though in the past there has been criticism, that the these awards overlooked a lot of the newer blues artists, but in recent years, more of these more progressive blues artists are starting to be recognized.
Keeping the Blues Alive Awards – The Keeping the Blues Alive Awards recognize the significant contributions to Blues music made by the people behind the scenes. Each is selected on the basis of merit by a select panel of Blues professionals.
The HART Fund – The Blues Foundation has established the HART Fund (Handy Artists Relief Trust) for Blues musicians and their families in financial need due to a broad range of health concerns. The Fund provides for acute, chronic and preventive medical and dental care as well as funeral and burial expenses. –
Sound Health Care – The Blues Foundation’s Sound Healthcare benefit allows its professional members to take advantage of group buying power, providing affordable coverage to U.S. residents wherever they are around the world – performing on tour, working freelance or seeking new work. Several levels of benefits can be tailored to meet a member’s specific needs for health, life, dental and critical illness insurance, all designed with an eye for value but provided by top-tier insurance companies. Holistic care options will also be provided.
Blues in Schools and the Generation Scholarship – The Blues Foundation helps individual musicans and member organizations create programs for the Blues in Schools. In addition, The Blues Foundation expanded its longstanding Blues in the Schools youth education efforts with a new initiative that began in 2010 entitled Generation Blues. This scholarship program allows qualified applicants under the age of 21 to study their instrument of choice at reputable camps, seminars and workshop programs such as Port Townsend Acoustic Blues Festival, Augusta Heritage Center and Fernando Jones’ Columbia College Blues Camp.
Blues Hall of Fame– Now here is the program that has run into the controversy of late. The Blues foundation has been inducting members into their blues hall of fame for the last 30 years. According to their website they describe their criteria and procedure as:
“The Blues Hall of Fame is a historical record of those who have made the Blues timeless through performance, documentation, and recording. Since its inception in 1980, The Blues Foundation has inducted new members annually into the Blues Hall of Fame for their historical contribution, impact and overall influence on the Blues. Members are inducted into the Blues Hall of Fame in five categories: Performers, Individuals, Classic of Blues Literature, Classic of Blues Recording (Song), Classic of Blues Recording (Album). Accordingly, individuals, recordings and literature are included in the Blues Hall of Fame. There is no submission or nomination process for induction in to the Blues Hall of Fame. Rather, each year in the fall, a distinguished panel of blues scholars begins the process of discussing who they believe should be given consideration for induction into the Blues Hall of Fame. After some back and forth, they vote in each of the five categories. The number of nominees in a year may vary.”
Now what I gather from this statement is the Blues Foundation has a nondescript panel of “Blues Scholars” that looks at the merit of potential inductees. Now personally I would like to have more transparency in their induction process, but no matter how you look at it, the selection is always a list of well deserving and worthy candidates. I never found myself scratching my head and wondering why. So the general consensus has been that the inductees into the Blues Foundation’s Blues Hall of Fame has been those who are more than worthy of the honor and I have never heard anyone dispute any of those that have been inducted over the last 30 years.
Currently with their “Raise the Roof” campaign, which has raised over $2.5 Million, they are well on their way to creating a true brick and mortar building to house their “Blues Hall of Fame” in Memphis. This is not a small undertaking.
No matter if you like the Blues Foundation, or if you agree with everything the Blues Foundation does, you cannot argue the fact that they are doing the groundwork necessary to create an organization that is sound and viable with programs that are designed to accomplish some really good things.
Blueshalloffame.com is owned by one person, Dan Marolt from San Diego California. Back in 1999 Dan applied for a “supplemental” trademark on the name “Blues Hall of Fame” (we will get into this later) and registered the domain name blueshalloffame.com, .net, .org and “Theblueshalloffame.com, .net, .org. The blues hall of fame.com is not a 501c3 organization in the sense they are incorporated and have gone through the process and paperwork with the IRS, they do not have a board of directors, and they don’t have to keep any accounting or books on their financials directly, nor do they have any direct responsibility to adhere to any of the laws and restrictions that are required by a 501c3.
So in order to allow tax deductible donations they have registered with a web based non for profit “United Charitable Programs” (UCP) (http://www.unitedcharitableprograms.org/) as a “Program” under their 501c3, This particular setup is called a Fiscal Sponsorship.
A Fiscal Sponsorship refers to the practice of non-profit organizations offering their legal and tax-exempt status to groups engaged in activities related to the organization’s missions. It typically involves a fee-based contractual arrangement between a project and an established non-profit
Fiscal sponsorship arrangements, if not handled carefully, can be vulnerable to the criticism that they serve merely as conduits for the transmission of deductible donations to entities not qualified to receive them.
However, in the last decade, the phenomenon of fiscal sponsorship has become a common ancillary activity for public charities involved in human service, environmental, and artistic endeavors. Non-profit institutions solely devoted to fiscal sponsorship have sprung up across the country, ranging from documentary film sponsors to public health research groups to separate corporations spun off by community foundations.
Nevertheless, it is important for both sponsors and projects to understand the exact nature of their relationship.
- Sponsors are advised to ensure that the activity of sponsoring a particular project is done in furtherance of its own exempted charitable purposes, as sponsors can be exposed to some liability for the actions of any sponsored projects.
- Projects are advised to recognize that projects will be the under the control of their sponsor(s), who may be legally responsible for the operations and activities of the project.
The benefits of immediate tax-exempt status and administrative support must be weighed against the lack of autonomy and fees typically charged by the sponsor.
So how does it work? When you make a donation through United Charitable Programs website they move it into a fund designated for the Blues hall of Fame.com. Dan can make a “Request for Funds” from this pool of monies and UCP will review the request and issue a check. For this service UCP takes a percentage of all funds that are raised.
I would be remiss if I did not mention that UCP is run by the same people that ran the “National Heritage Foundation” which declared bankruptcy and a lot of people lost money. You can Google The National Heritage Foundation (or click here) and read the articles for yourself. For the purpose of this article, it’s beyond the scope of what we are discussing, but I would be remiss if I did not make you aware of this.
Now the Blues Hall of Fame.com appoints blues ambassadors who put together shows and induction ceremonies in their respective areas. Monies are collected at the door and funds are dispersed between the club, the Blues Ambassadors and organization (at least this is what was claimed). According to Mr. Packer (One of the most active Blues Ambassadors from NY, but It seems that he also covers the Chicago area as well) funds are used to pay the “Performing” band (usually not the band or artists being inducted, they don’t get paid. For the most part Mr. Packer’s band is the only paid performing band) , create the certificates and though Mr. Packer indicated that the remaining funds if any are sent to Mr Marolt, Mr. Marolt indicated that these funds are sent to UCP for processing, I could not get a straight answer as to who sends what funds to where from either Mr. Packer or Mr. Marolt.
You can view the Financial report from UCP on the Blues Hall of Fame.com Here 101695 Blues Hall of Fame FS Jul 2011 to Feb 2014 All funds that came into the program would be indicated here. As stated above, Mr. Packer claims that the excess monies he collects from the “Induction Ceremonies” are sent to Mr. Marolt. Mr. Marolt claims nothing is sent to him, that in fact it is all sent directly to UCP. If you look at the records above, you can decide for yourself if the funds are being sent to UCP for processing. It seems there is little to no accounting or oversight when it comes to the funds collected by “Blues Ambassadors” when they hold their “Induction Events”.
Now in speaking with Mr. Marolt, I wanted to know what the procedure and the criteria were to be inducted in the Blues of Fame.com. Apparently the requirement for induction is nothing more than a simple email to Mr. Marolt, and a venue for them to put on an induction ceremony. That is pretty much it. Now they do have three levels of inductees:
- Great Blues Artists – which can be any local band or person who plays any kind of blues anywhere in the world. There is no criteria or requirement, all you need is someone to nominate you and you can be a Blues hall of Famer. You can essentially nominate yourself.
- Master Blues Artists – This is a subjective call by Mr. Marolt and possibly the Blues Ambassadors. This is reserved for the “Special” Local blues artists. Again all it takes is an email to Mr. Marolt and tell him this person should be a “Master” Blues Artist. No real criteria.
- Legendary Blues Artist – Again a subjective call by Mr. Marolt, but for the most part these would be the more famous of the blues artists. The Buddy Guy’s, BB Kings, Johnny Winters etc. EDITORS NOTE: Since this was first published there has been an effort by some in Mr. Marolts group to establish a sense of validity by using images of Johnny Winter and others with a certificate.
Not that there is anything wrong with how or who they induct, as Mr. Marolt explains, it’s his Hall of Fame and he can establish any criteria he wants. For the most part, Blues Hall of Fame.com does not have any programs in place as the Blues Foundation has. The only real asset the Blues Hall of Fame.com has is its website and the ability to induct and list whoever they want. But, because the criteria is so loose many people have questioned the validity of some of those that have been inducted as being worthy of having the title “Blues Hall of Famer”. Not to take away from any band’s ability to perform or play blues, but when that band promotes to the world that they are in the Blues Hall of Fame, it eludes to a certain credibility factor. If you cannot substantiate that claim with any more of a history, then being a weekend blues band , well it does lend itself to questions of integrity for that band and for the Hall of Fame.
What is the Issue
As we stated before Mr. Marolt applied for a “Supplemental” trademark on the name “Blues Hall of Fame” and the name “Chicago Blues Hall of Fame”. According to www.nolo.com a supplemental trademark is described as:
The federal Supplemental Register is a secondary list maintained by the U.S. Patent and Trademark Office for trademarks and service marks that do not qualify for the Principal Register. Any name or symbol may be placed on the Supplemental Register as long as it is in actual use in commerce that Congress may regulate and can in some way distinguish the applicant’s goods or services from others.
Descriptive, surname, and geographical term marks all qualify for the Supplemental Register. Generic terms do not qualify, since by definition a generic term calls to mind a type of product rather than a specific product. For instance, “Blue Jeans” means any pants made of blue denim, rather than a specific manufacturer’s jeans. Marks that are barred from the Principal Register for reasons other than sheer descriptiveness are also barred from the Supplemental Register.
It is often difficult to prove infringement of a mark listed on the Supplemental Register, because such registration is an admission by the mark’s owner that the mark is insufficiently distinctive to be placed on the Principal Register. Neither trademark nor unfair competition laws protect marks in any significant way unless consumer confusion is likely to result. Consumers are not likely to be confused by dual uses of any marks unless they are well known or memorable—in other words, distinctive. As a result, marks on the Supplemental Register do not receive all the protections given to those on the Principal Register.
Here lies the problem, Both parties can still use the term Blues Hall of Fame, because the term “Blues Hall of Fame” has been determined to be a insufficiently distinctive to actually be registered as a full trademark. But the fact that Mr. Marolt has a supplemental trademark, and could theoretically try and stop them from using it, is troublesome enough to the blues foundation that they have filed litigation with the trademark commission to have Mr. Marolt’s supplemental trademark rescinded (see the Foundations Filing Below)
It seems besides having restrictions on the use of the term “Blues Hall of Fame, another problem for the Blues foundation is the fact that the Blues Hall of Fame.com with the help of Mr. Packer and other Blues Ambassadors, are producing a wide variety of induction ceremonies under the name Blues Hall of Fame. Herein lies the confusion between the two entities, The Blues Foundation is a 501c3 non for profit organization that is on the verge of creating a brick and mortar Museum to honor Blues and the people who were instrumental in developing the genre, using a defined criteria. The other is a website who criteria is so loose that almost anyone can be a blues hall of famer.
With the trademark litigation, this battle of the Blues Hall of Fames is destined to continue on for years to come. Where it will all end, I don’t know, the purpose of this article is to make you aware of what is going on and allow you the opportunity to see and understand the differences between these two factions. I am not saying which is right or wrong, but the next time you see an event for the “Blues Hall of Fame”, take the time to find out which Blues Hall of Fame the event is for, and decide if that is the one you want to support and/or be part of.
EDITORS NOTE: It was brought to my attention that Mr. Marolt had made several attempts to sell/lease the domains to the Blues Foundation for a large sum of money. This brings into question the motivations of Mr. Marolt.
EDITORS NOTE: Below is the “Official” Response of the Blues Foundation
The official statement of the Blues Foundation re: Blues Hall of Fame:
Please help us preserve the stature and sanctity of the Blues Hall of Fame. Since September 2011, The Blues Foundation has been working to establish the bricks and mortar Blues Hall of Fame, the physical complement to the induction ceremonies that have been held every year since 1980. In the process, we have been asked about another individual who purports to have his own blues “hall of fame” using the “blueshalloffame(dot)org” domain. The short answer is that there is absolutely no connection between us and that individual or website. The Blues Foundation’s use of the term “Blues Hall of Fame” predates that individual’s use by almost 20 years. The Blues Foundation is working with legal counsel to protect its intellectual property rights related to our “Blues Hall of Fame,” considered in the industry and worldwide as the ultimate recognition in blues music. As part of our efforts to protect our intellectual property, The Blues Foundation is pursuing remedies with the United States Patent and Trademark Office based on our prior use. We ask that our members, including performers and affiliates, support us in our efforts to protect and preserve the honor, legitimacy and worldwide recognition that so deservedly accompanies an induction into the Blues Hall of Fame by The Blues Foundation.
EDITORS NOTE: Below is a response from Rick Lusher Blues Radio Promoter to the article.
Rick Lusher This battle between the Two Hall Of Fames causes me a great dilemma.
For me there is only one Hall Of Fame, and that’s the one run by the Blues Foundation. The Blues Foundation has been inducting musicians into the Hall Of Fall since 1981.
The article on the Battle Between The Hall Of Fame , states facts, not opinions. Why is it a crime to be informed and have the real facts. http://www.blues.org/foundation…/hall-of-fame/inductions/
Definition of HALL OF FAME From Webster a structure housing memorials to famous or illustrious individuals usually chosen by a group of electors a group of individuals in a particular category ,who have been selected as particularly illustrious.
My issue with http://blueshalloffame.com/ which they admit is Virtual, is not what they do, but just their Name. I have been a strong supporter of local musicians for many years, and quite a few of my friends and folks I work with have been voted into the Virtual Hall Of Fame. I do believe that local musicians that do it for a living should be honored, but not as Hall Of Famers. If you want to call this the Blues Appreciation Award/Society or even by State The New York Blues Hall Of Fame, The New Jersey Blues Hall Of Fame etc, I could support that. I have always supported local musicians, and while there are many deserving artist that have been put in the Hall Of Fame, there are many that are just not “Hall Of Famers”. I will never mention their names in a Public Setting, but the rules of this Hall Of Fame state that anyone can be a Hall Of Famer. I think it does a disservice to include just anyone who has ever strummed a guitar, or sang a song. I also think it’s misleading when I see posters that say Appearing tonight, Hall Of Fame Artist XXXX.
Life is not fair, and in all aspects of life, some get recognized(and get awards), and some don’t. Julius Irving is in the Basketball Hall Of Fame. the starting point guard from Roosevelt High School class
of 1969 is not.
I’ve also seen shots taken at the Blues Foundation, calling them Blues Nazi’s, snobs, and as being elite. In the last three years, I’ve worked on three CD’s with artists that have no label, and no money for what some think, “IS BUYING THEIR WAY IN”. They wound up with Three BMA nominations, and one win.
Stop complaining that you don’t have a Record Label, that you can’t get an agent, or that you can’t afford a publicist. I saw a silly claim, that the Record Labels control Radio airplay, this is Blues.
Radio is not going to make you a star in this day and age(you need to Tour outside of your area). If you release a CD of perfect note for note covers of the Classics, your chances of making some noise are not very good. You need to study the current national scene and see who is hot(whether you like them or not), that’s probably what people want to hear and see at a national level. Shop your CD, contacts agents, and if you get a response, move on. Have a good CD?, then get it out there, you don’t have to hire someone if you don’t have the money. If your music is really good, it will get played. A local artist, who is a friend of mine, followed my instructions made the Living Blues Charts, spent many weeks on the RMR Blues Charts, and made the Top Three on XM/Sirius BB Kings Bluesville. The music was freaking great and that’s why it got played around the world. The artists could only afford to send out 200 copies, and still made a great splash, the total cost was $500 for postage and envelopes.
- Suzanne Roman Foschino Rick, you are so right about this. I just watched the Rock and Roll Hall of fame induction ceremonies last night and what a great event it was…the best of the best, the greatest of all time, being inducted with such pomp and respect. It is the highest honor to be inducted into any hall of fame. So, when every person ever to do anything in blues is calling themselves “hall of fame inductee”s, it waters down the actual Hall of Fame inductees like Koko Taylor and all of those people who are just the cream of the crop…those people who have done more than anyone else, who have lived it, gone above and beyond, become synonymous with the genre…when you say blues, you think BB King…you don’t think local legend. You think Albert Collins, you think Freddie King…I mean, I love some of these folks who are being given these framed certificates and I too agree that they should be honored in some way for doing what they do, going out there and choosing to be a part of the blues world. But, hall of fame inductees? People are getting hurt. We are talking about a website run by one man…not a board of directors, not a group of educators or professionals…one man who seems to have the last word about who is “inducted” into the virtual walls if his “hall”. And the numbers of inductees are staggering! there seem to be hundreds of artists in the virtual hall. I see people that I love and respect being so thankful for this latest “honor” they are receiving, because they believe they are being inducted into an actual hall of fame, it’s so deceitful! I know there are people out there everyday keeping it alive, but hall of fame? I played baseball in high school…and I was really good…but I like to think the halls of Cooperstown are reserved for the likes of Derek Jeter. I make my living as an artist and photographer…but I am fully aware that just because I do something and do it well, does not make me the same as Ansel Adams or Renoir simply because I work well with a camera and a paintbrush…this is just reality…by the standards of this virtual hall of fame, not only Aerosmith, but every Aerosmith tribute band should be inducted into the R&FHOF…not only the Beatles, but every Beatlemania type band out there should be inducted becuase they are keeping it alive. I just don’t understand how this has gotten so far out of control. I looked good and hard at this virtual hall of fame’s website years ago and it was clear that this was nothing but an intentionally confusing entity, meant to raise money for some non existent building that they were “planning” to build. On the website was a bad watercolor image of some “future home of the hall of fame” that they were raising money to build. There was no live link there was no contact info and there was no actual blue print or campaign to get this thing done…it was a fake. Suddenly that image and page are removed from the virtual hall’s website…so where did the money go that was raised to build that hall? Where does any of this money go? and I keep seeing photos of “happy inductees” as if this is going to prove that this is a real hall of fame. Well, of course they’re happy, they were just ambushed during their show and presented with a plaque…what are they supposed to do? be angry and rude in front of their fans? I get what you’re saying Rick and I totally agree…high honors like Hall of Fame honors are reserved for only the best of the best and it should be pretty obvious…it’s just a fact of life. Maybe I’ll start a website called Grammie and start handing out framed certificate Grammies…it would hold just as much credibility as the virtual hall of fame. no?