According to the New York Post, a Manhattan federal judge ruled yesterday (Thursday, February 25) that Ozzy Osbourne can proceed with his lawsuit against guitarist Tony Iommi over use of the BLACK SABBATH name.
Ozzy filed a lawsuit against Iommi in May 2009, claiming that Iommi illegally took sole ownership of the band's name in a filing with the U.S. Patent and Trademark Office.
Osbourne is suing Iommi for a 50 percent interest in the "Black Sabbath" trademark, along with a portion of Iommi's profits from use of the name.
The Manhattan federal court suit also charges that Osbourne's "signature lead vocals" are largely responsible for the band's "extraordinary success," noting that its popularity plummeted during his absence from 1980 through 1996.
Lawyer Andrew DeVore argued yesterday that Osbourne signed away all his rights to the BLACK SABBATH trademark after he quit the band in 1979.
Osbourne's lawyer, Howard Shire, called that agreement a "red herring" that was "repudiated" when the singer rejoined in 1997 and took over "quality control" of the band's merchandise, tours and recordings.
In a statement released on May 29, 2009, Ozzy said about his decision to sue Iommi, "It is with great regret that I had to resort to legal action against my long-term partner Tony Iommi, but after three years of trying to resolve this issue amicably, I feel I have no other recourse.
"As of the mid-1990s, after constant and numerous changes in band members, the brand of 'BLACK SABBATH' was literally in the toilet and Tony Iommi (touring under the name BLACK SABBATH) was reduced to performing in clubs. Since 1997, when Geezer [Butler, bass], Bill [Ward, drums] and myself rejoined the band, BLACK SABBATH has returned to its former glory as we headlined sold-out arenas and amphitheatres playing to upwards of 50,000 people at each show around the world. We worked collectively to restore credibility and bring dignity back to the name 'BLACK SABBATH,' which led to the band being inducted into the U.K. and U.S. Rock And Roll Hall of Fames in 2005 and 2006, respectively.
"Throughout the last 12 years, it was my management representatives who oversaw the marketing and quality control of the 'BLACK SABBATH' brand through Ozzfest, touring, merchandising and album reissues. The name 'BLACK SABBATH' now has a worldwide prestige and merchandising value that it would not have had by continuing on the road it was on prior to the 1997 reunion tour.
"Tony, I am so sorry it's had to get to this point by me having to take this action against you. I don't have the right to speak for Geezer and Bill, but I feel that morally and ethically the trademark should be owned by the four of us equally. I hope that by me taking this first step that it will ultimately end up that way. We've all worked too hard and long in our careers to allow you to sell merchandise that features all our faces, old BLACK SABBATH album covers and band logos, and then you tell us that you own the copyright.
"We're all in our 60s now. The BLACK SABBATH legacy should live on long after we have all gone.
"Please do the right thing."
Osbourne added in a separate online post, "I am very saddened that I've had to take legal action against Tony. This is something that I've tried to avoid for years. I am not Geezer or Bill's voice. However, 'till the day I die I will not change my mind on this issue. The BLACK SABBATH trademark should be equally owned by Geezer, Bill, Tony and I as the true BLACK SABBATH lineup is Tony, Geezer, Bill and I. We've all been mates since school. I've always said there is an invisible thread that holds us together.
"Tony, let's get this ridiculous issue sorted and move on with our lives. You're 61, I'm 60. I hope that we've got a good 20 years left in us. But if not, God forbid something happens to you. What's going to happen to the BLACK SABBATH trademark? Who's going to oversee it? Don't you think after we're long gone the rights should stay in your family, my family, Bill's family and Geezer's family?"
Ozzy's suit follows one filed by Iommi in December 2008 against Live Nation. In that filing, Iommi claims the concert giant sold merchandise bearing the band's logo, despite the 2006 expiration of a merchandising deal, reportedly worth nearly $80 million. Soon after that agreement concluded, Iommi reclaimed the band's trademark.
Iommi's suit argues Live Nation continued to sell more than 100 items of merchandise featuring the band's likeness, name and logo, despite the receipt of cease-and-desist orders from the guitarist's camp. Iommi's suit seeks damages in the amount of three times the profits from the merchandise sales, plus a halt to the BLACK SABBATH product sales.
Iommi and SABBATH bassist Geezer Butler both said some less than kind things about working with Osbourne in a spring 2009 interview with Decibel magazine. The pair released a new studio album as HEAVEN & HELL, the post-Ozzy version of SABBATH featuring vocalist Ronnie James Dio, and Butler said that working with Dio was much easier than Osbourne. He explained, "Ronnie's a songwriter in his own right — he's got tons of ideas. Whereas Ozzy . . . in the old days, he'd come up with a vocal line and I'd write the lyrics. Ronnie is 100 percent involved in both the musical side and the vocal side, and he writes his own lyrics as well."
Butler added that Osbourne didn't take him seriously as a songwriter, saying, "If we were with Ozzy and I came in with the killer riff of all time, Ozzy wouldn't even think of doing it because I'm not the guitarist and that's the way he thinks . . . That's why it was so bloody hard to write anything."
Butler said about HEAVEN & HELL's debut CD, "The Devil You Know", "If we'd written this album with Ozzy, we'd still be working on the first track."
Iommi added that there was a sharp difference between the singers live as well, saying, "It was great being with Ozzy on the road . . . but with Ronnie it's a lot different, because we go out and we know exactly what we're gonna be doing. With Ozzy, we didn't really know. It was touch and go sometimes on some of those early shows, whether he was gonna turn up, if he'd be able to sing, if his voice was gone, or what. We'd have to cancel shows, which Geezer and myself really hated. But with Ronnie, we've never canceled a show."
Tony Iommi's filing with the U.S. Patent and Trademark Office:
BLACK SABBATH "reunion" promotional photo (1999):
BLACK SABBATH live in 2005: