The Sad Desperation of Variety: Still Trying to Punk a Punk Band, and Losing

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Variety, which was once an essential Hollywood trade rag, has seen their milkshake drunk by the internet over the last decade. They're one of those publications that has made no good faith effort to do anything to compete with the likes of Nikki Finke's now-indomitable Deadline Hollywood Daily, former New York Times reporter Sharon Waxman's trade news site The Wrap, the NYT's media news blogger/reporters of Media Decoder, and now, even, the once-laughable Hollywood Reporter (which classicly played second-fiddle to Variety). They've instead chosen to engage in petty feuds with people like Finke instead of trying to play catchup, and now, they're paying the price as a brand losing its luster (and employees) by the day. To add to the further embarrassment, they're now going after...a punk band.

Yeah, it's true: California punk band The Vandals -- who've been around since 1980 -- are "embroiled in heated litigation" with Variety over the use of a likeness of Variety's logo on their 2004 album Hollywood Potato Chip. The Variety logo looks like this:

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And the Hollywood Potato Chip cover looks like this:

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The band settled with Variety, agreed to stop using the logo, and changed the album cover to look like this:

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So why is this still an issue? Variety is apparently so bored/desperate/looking for money and/or a fight, they started going after The Vandals again in April of this year -- six years after the original settlement -- for images of the old cover appearing on their label Kung Fu Records' website, which wasn't their fault and was something The Vandals are saying they weren't allowed to correct.

Well, as it turns out, one of the punks in The Vandals aren't about to get punked. Because, as Matthew Belloni at Reuters reports, he's not just mean with an electric bass, but with legal filings, too:

Rather than pay a lawyer to fight Reed, group member Joe Escalante is handling the matter himself. He's a Loyola Law School alumnus and worked in business affairs at CBS before pursuing music. "I'm spending ridiculous amounts of hours on this," Escalante said. "Like four to 10 hours a day. It's a nightmare, but I'm learning how to do litigation. I hired a guy to teach me how to do it in Delaware." He believes [Variety publisher] Reed filed the case in Delaware just to force the band to spend money fighting in a far-flung state. So Escalante got himself admitted to practice in Delaware and filed papers to try to transfer the case to Los Angeles. Reed is vigorously opposing the effort. The band has posted all the court documents on its website and will hold a fundraiser concert to raise money to fight the case on Friday.

If Variety loses this case -- which they very well might -- it'll just be another stake in the heart of a publication as more evidence towards the kind of thing that led to their downfall in the first place: They just don't get the internet. It doesn't help to resent it, either. This is a publication so desperate to drum up money from the internet that they're clicking around trying to juice money out of years-old settlements instead of trying to make it in the most basic and old-fashioned way: by earning it as a business with a product, one which they're making more and more evident has run its course.

[fkamer@villagevoice.com]


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