published Sunday, April 20th, 2014

Lake City's move to change name to Rocky Top hits Knoxville court in May

The move by Lake City, Tenn., officials to change the town’s name to Rocky Top faces a do-or-die moment May 5 in a federal courtroom in Knoxville, an attorney involved in the case said.

That’s when Chief U.S. District Court Judge Thomas A. Varlan is scheduled to consider a request to grant a temporary injunction to block the name change.

Approving that move would send the case into judicial gridlock, likely for years, and momentum for the new municipal moniker would grind to a halt, attorney Ray Scott said. He represents the would-be developers planning a theme park in the Lake City area who requested the name change as a way to lure visitors.

A private act granting Lake City’s City Council the go-ahead for the change has been approved by state lawmakers and awaits the governor’s signature. But before the city ratifies the revision, officials want to resolve the federal complaint.

Scott said the effort by lawyers for House of Bryant Publications LLC — the Gatlinburg owner of Rocky Top trademarks and the copyright to the famous bluegrass song — to stop the municipal name change is “absurd” and should be dismissed as frivolous.

Attorneys with a Nashville law firm filed the federal complaint in early March. It alleges the municipal name change would “unfairly exploit the fame and goodwill of House of Bryant’s intellectual property.” House of Bryant consists of the two sons of the husband-and-wife songwriting team who penned the popular ditty.

“When I saw that the city was being sued under the supposed Rocky Top trademark, I was incensed,” said Scott, who said he has more than 50 years of experience in trademark law.

Scott in his brief argues that a copyright doesn’t protect the song’s title. He contends that House of Bryant trademarks are on items such as refrigerator magnets and baby blankets, and the potential developers don’t intend to sell such articles.

“They [House of Bryant] allege their products are famous, and they are not,” Scott said. He also said there are 264 Tennessee corporate registrations and 54 federal trademark registrations that include the phrase Rocky Top in their paperwork, including Rocky Top Markets.

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