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Broke trademark thief still on the hook for $24M to the Drifters

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A concert promoter in Chapter 7 bankruptcy is still responsible for $24 million in claims for infringing on the trademark of the Drifters, a federal judge in New Jersey has ruled.

The genuine article

Barry Singer knew he was hurting the trademark’s owner, Faye Treadwell, when he promoted a group that billed itself as the legendary doo-wop pioneers, said U.S. District Court Judge Freda Wolfson.

The 3rd Circuit Court of Appeals in Philadelphia last year gave Treadwell, who once managed the influential 1950s group, the go-ahead to seek damages from New York City promoter Larry Marshak and his associates, including Singer.

Marshak promoted concerts by bands that called themselves The Drifters, The Platters and The Coasters, even though none of them had an original member involved in recording or first performing any of their respective hits — which, in the Drifters case, includes “Up on the Roof,” “Under the Boardwalk,” “Save the Last Dance For Me” and “Saturday Night at the Movies.”

Led variously by popular vocalists Ben E. King, Clyde McPhatter and others, the Drifters — who had roots in New Jersey — used Latin flavors and lush strings to produce urban-styled romantic soundtracks that conjured images of New York City boardwalks and tenements.

Treadwell became The Drifters’ manager in 1959 after her husband, George — who led the group for several years — died. In 1970, long after the group had disbanded, Marshak recruited some former members and began marketing them as the Drifters.

A federal judge in Newark put a stop to that in 1999, finding Marshak guilty of fraud and declaring Treadwell the sole trademark owner.

Singer, an associate of Marshak’s for years, then made a deal with the widow of a band member to license the name “The Elsbeary Hobbs Drifters.” Four years after the group began performing, Treadwell went back to court.

U.S. District Court Judge Dickinson Debevoise, in turn, said his injunction against Marshak applied to Singer, too. That led to Marshak and Singer’s unsuccessful appeal to the 3rd Circuit.

Soon after, Singer filed for personal bankruptcy under Chapter 7. Treadwell quickly obtained a court order that wouldn’t remove (or “discharge”) his debt to her — nearly $9 million in profits by the drifting wannabes, in addition to damages.

Singer appealed, claiming he wasn’t trying to hurt anyone. But Wolfson found his infringement on the Drifters’ trademark damaging to Treadwell, as well as “wrongful and without just cause or excuse.”

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