The Playroom Academy of Music in Baxter Village has caught the attention of the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame and Museum in Cleveland.
The Hall of Fame isn't looking at the Playroom's state-of-the-art method of teaching, or the success it has had teaching newcomers, young and old, how to play an instrument. The Rock and Roll Hall of Fame has picked a fight with the Playroom over a two-word phrase: "Tots Rock."
Tots Rock is the name of the Playroom's rock music program that aims to teach children the fundamentals of music while they're having fun. Parents and their children play games, sing rock and pop songs and play instruments, putting a modern spin on the traditional children's music program.
Playroom owner Eddie Zimmerman has renamed the program "Tots in Tune" because of the dispute. He said he hopes it is only temporary. He is looking for a lawyer will fight the hall's cease-and-desist actions for free.
When Zimmerman applied for a federal trademark for the Tots Rock program name, he received a letter from the Hall of Fame soon after, demanding that he stop using the Tots Rock name because of its similarity to one of their programs, Toddlers Rock.
"It was a very threatening letter saying we were 'in violation of our mark, you better stop using it or we'll bring action,'" Zimmerman said. "I think they are Goliath and I don't think they've really thought it out. They just want to put the lawyers on it and get rid of it. I think it's corporate bureaucracy, and things are black and white to them."
The Hall of Fame did not respond to requests for comment.
In the first letter sent to Zimmerman, the Hall of Fame's representatives said the similarity in the program names could cause confusion or imply "endorsement or approval of the Museum or the foundation."
"I demand that you immediately cease and desist from any and all use of Tots Rock and any mark confusingly similar thereto," the letter stated. "If necessary...(the Museum) will take all measures necessary to enforce its rights in and to the Toddler Rock mark. Should you fail to cease and desist ... the Museum will be forced to consider other alternatives available to it including trademark opposition proceedings as well as the commencement of immediate litigation for damages and injunctive relief against you."
Zimmerman contacted his attorney, who drafted a response to the Hall of Fame. The letter asked for details on how the Toddler Rock mark, used in Cleveland, was competing with Tots Rock, a program in the Carolinas. The letter asked the Hall of Fame to identify any instances confusion between Tots Rock and Toddler Rock.
Zimmerman said the Hall of Fame responded with "we won't talk to you, read your letter, we don't care what you have to say, and we're coming after you if you don't cease and desist."
The exchange of letters, Zimmerman said, cost him more than $3,500. Although he said he feels he has a good case, and his lawyer has agreed, Zimmerman said he cannot take the case to court because he doesn't have the money for what could be a costly case.
"Intellectual property law is one of the most expensive you can deal with," Zimmerman said. "I can't fight this battle. I can't take on the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame. If it costs $1,500 a letter, I can't imagine what litigation will cost. I just don't have that kind of money. They have an endless supply of money and I have me."
Zimmerman said he is not calling it quits yet.
He has changed the name of the program to avoid legal issues for now, but is looking for a lawyer who will take the case.
"I'm not the guy who walks away from a fight, but in this case I have to find someone who will help me," Zimmerman said. "It's going to take someone who believes in the story and the fact that it's wrong to come on board and say 'Hey, my firm can support this and we'll help you swing the hammer.'"