Bill Monroe’s Name Can Be Used In Kentucky–Says Court Ruling!

Image634935000469897259An appeals court panel in Kentucky ruled today that a nonprofit organization can use Bluegrass founder, Bill Monroe's name to promote The Jerusalem Ridge Bluegrass Music Festival and for tours of the musician's home place in Rosine, Kentucky.

Writing for the  three-judge panel, Judge Joy Moore, concluded that “county officials meant to grant the festival and its director legal right to use Monroe's name, but failed to formalize the agreement in writing before sour notes struck the relationship when the festival's director and officials had a falling out in 2004.”

Today’s decision reverses a lower court, which found that Ohio County, Kentucky held the intellectual property rights to Monroe's name and could stop the festival from using it.

"Until 2004, (the county) continued to support the Jerusalem Ridge Bluegrass Music Foundation's efforts to promote the Bill Monroe name," Moore wrote.

Steve Pitt, attorney for the nonprofit music foundation, said the group's director, Campbell "Doc" Mercer, hopes the decision will clear the way for the growth of tourism in the area related to Monroe's legacy.

In an Associated Press news story, Pitt said, "The Jerusalem Ridge Bluegrass Music Foundation is looking forward to once again formally assuming the Bill Monroe name and, along with Ohio County, its leaders and its citizens, starting anew to honor and build upon the Bill Monroe name and legacy that mean so much to the county and state,"

Ohio County, Kentucky has tried to capitalize on Monroe’s legacy since his death in 1996.  Monroe’s son James sold his father’s likeness and commercial rights to the County and the Industrial Foundation in 1999.

Two years later, they hired Mercer, who lives in Hartford, at a salary of $45,000 annually to run the Bill Monroe Bluegrass Music Foundation, with the aim of restoring Monroe's home site near Rosine and developing a memorial park. Mercer used Monroe's name to promote the festival before the Ohio County Industrial Foundation severed ties with Mercer in 2003 after their relationship soured. The Industrial Foundation declined to give usage rights to Monroe's name and image to Mercer's organization when the relationship soured.

Ohio County barred Mercer from holding the festival at Bill Monroe's home place this year. Mercer moved the festivities to the adjacent property, which he owns.

Ohio County Circuit Judge Ronnie Dortch concluded in 2011 that the informal actions and comments of industrial foundation officials indicated the foundation "would eventually assign the Monroe Name Agreement" to the Jerusalem Ridge Foundation.

However, Dortch also said the Industrial Foundation never put in writing or deed permission for Mercer to use the name.

Late last summer the Ohio County Fiscal Court issued a statement saying they backed the Jerusalem Ridge Foundation 100% (Read the full story here).

Moore, joined by Judge Irv Maze, concluded that the lack of a written deal didn't negate the county's actions that showed intent to grant the use of Monroe's name to Mercer.

"And, as the circuit court itself acknowledged in its order of judgment, a corporation's actions are sufficient to effect an assignment of rights," Moore wrote.

Judge Jeffrey Taylor dissented from ruling, but did not issue an opinion for his reasons.

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