The Eagles are Suing Hotel California. Here’s Why it Should Be the Other Way Around!
Why sue The Eagles? The glib answer is the band’s entire oeuvre, which like much of 1970s soft rock has not held up well with the passage of time (has anyone listened to Witchy Woman lately?).
But we’re not interested in condemning the Eagles for their terrible music; only for their insatiable greed, most recently displayed in a trademark dispute with Hotel California in Todos Santos.
Here are a few reasons the lawsuit is a joke, and why it would make more sense for the hotel to go after the band, rather than vice versa.
Hotel California Had the Name First
Don Henley was in diapers when construction began on Hotel California in 1948. The hotel was founded by a Chinese immigrant to Baja California Sur named Mr. Wong, who in an effort at assimilation changed it to the somewhat grandiose Don Antonio Tabasco. Don Antonio lived in what was then a 16-room hotel with his wife and seven beautiful daughters, and over the course of the next decade, their residence/lodging would be the first in town to pump gas and serve cold beer (the latter of which remains a specialty, albeit not an exclusive one).
Those interested in visiting the picturesque town of Todos Santos – the first place on the Baja California peninsula to be officially designated as a pueblo mágico (literally, “magical village”) – can find many wonderful pictures of this prominent local family at the community’s de facto museum, the Centro Cultural Todosanteño. They can also see the foundation plaque from the hotel’s opening in 1950, given pride of place in the courtyard that now hosts onsite restaurant La Coronela.
So, just to recap: Hotel California opened in 1950. The Eagles wrote a song called Hotel California in 1976.
How can this be trademark infringement by the hotel, given the legal importance of precedence, of being the first to do or say something?
The Eagles argue that the Hotel California went under other names before reverting to the original moniker when it was bought by new owners in 2001. They also argue that the hotel has been capitalizing on their music for promotional purposes.
We’ll take these claims one by one.
The Eagles Have Been Taking Names for Years
The band, it should be noted, does not have an original name. They are named for an animal of ancient origin, whose name in the English language dates back to at least the medieval period. Before 1678, however, the word eagle referred to only one species: the golden eagle. Suppose the golden eagles decided in some aerie conclave to return to their roots, and reclaim their title of “The Eagles.” Would the band be able to sue them, based on the fact that the “animals in question” didn’t use that name specifically for many years? Would the actual eagles be capitalizing on the cachet of the fake Eagles? Would they also have to remain earthbound to avoid copyright infringement on some crappy Steve Miller song?
This is the gist of the band’s present claim, and it is one that is patently ridiculous, pun intended.
But let’s explore this idea in more detail, because the lawsuit was filed in California. That’s the U.S. state of California; a useful clarification in that Baja was the first California. From its European discovery by conquistador-in-chief Hernán Cortés (actually it was a Cortés lieutenant named Fortún Ximénez who first made landfall) in 1533 to the Portolá Expedition in 1769, California referred only to the Baja California peninsula. After the incursions of Gaspar de Portolá, Fr. Junípero Serra and Co., the new territory was referred to as Nueva and later Alta California, to differentiate it from the original.
So, to recap again: a band that is obviously not the first group of eagles is suing in a place that is not the first California over a title that they were not the first to use.
It’s so absurd in principle that only a group of almost impossibly litigious chaps could conceivably attempt such a preposterous claim. Oh, wait…
The Eagles Have a History of ALLEGEDLY Frivolous Litigation
The lead of a 1994 article in music industry magazine Billboard summed up the band’s turbulent legal history in less than a single sentence: “Despite the number of lawsuits circling the Eagles…”
The secret history of The Eagles is that they all hated each other. Band member Glenn Frey ALLEGEDLY threatened to kill Don Felder onstage before the group’s initial breakup in 1980, a breakup that led Henley to quip that “hell would freeze over” before they got back together. Fourteen years later they were able to briefly tolerate each other long enough for a lucrative reunion called the “Hell Freezes Over Tour.”
Felder was finally fired by his bandmates in 2001, leading to his subsequent ALLEGED lawsuit for wrongful termination, followed by an ALLEGED countersuit by Frey and Henley for breach of contract.
We’re using ALLEGEDLY as much as possible, by the way, just to ensure these “artists” don’t try to sue us. The list of Eagles related lawsuits doesn’t only include ones against each other, but against their music labels, and virtually anyone with the temerity to put together the same series of words in a sentence.
It’s not as if, by the way, they need the money. These are all rich men. Don Henley has an ALLEGED net worth of 200 million dollars; Joe Walsh $75 million; Don Felder $60 million; Randy Meisner $15 million; Bernie Leadon $10 million. Glenn Frey has shuffled off this mortal coil, and is probably now in the process of suing God. ALLEGEDLY. His net worth at the time of his death was reportedly 90 million dollars.
Hotel California Doesn’t Need Help Attracting Guests
So the band members are a bit avaricious, ALLEGEDLY. Why go after the non-corporate owner of Hotel California? Like the moral of the old story about the frog and the scorpion, the answer is simple: it’s in their nature.
The Hotel California is a long-running landmark that needs no help in attracting guests. The charming, 11-room boutique hotel is regularly filled, as is La Coronela Restaurant & Bar, and the onsite souvenir shop and art gallery, Emporio.
Unfortunately, much of that income may now go to legal fees to gratify the bottomless egos of musicians who have been “appropriating” from others for their entire careers. They borrowed México’s national spirit for Tequila Sunrise. They commandeered the country’s heritage for Desperado. They appropriated cultural elements for Hotel California, even if the song itself is fictional. These are kind ways to spin their mercenary use of Mexican culture, which is why it is so galling that they would now try to impose U.S. laws on a México based business.
What’s next for the group of ALLEGEDLY talented musicians known as The Eagles? Word is they’re about to go after golfers, whose use of their name as a signifier for achieving two under par on any single hole is an obvious case of trademark infringement.
We are curious to know your thoughts. Do you agree with The Eagles’ lawsuit or do you side with Hotel California? Please be sure to comment below!
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Chris Sands and Michael L. Mattos