American rock band The Eagles released their fifth studio album Hotel California in 1976. The title track (released as a single in 1977) was an instant hit and was awarded the Grammy Award for Record of the Year in 1978.
Some 1,000 miles (1,609 km) south of San Diego sits a small town on the pacific coast side of Mexico’s Baja California Peninsula by the name of Todos Santos. The Defendant’s (Hotel California Baja LLC) 11-bedroom hotel opened in Todos Santos in 1950 and was originally called Hotel California but underwent several ownership and name changes.
In proceedings commenced in 2017, the band claimed that the Defendant was trying to dupe tourists into thinking their hotel was the inspiration for their iconic 1976 track of the same name and that the band authorised their actions. The hotel played the band’s songs throughout the property and sold T-shirts, posters, refrigerator magnets and other merchandise for guests to take home after they checked out. It also described itself as “legendary”. Despite this the hotel denied they were attempting to mislead guests.
It was alleged that “Through advertising targeted to U.S. consumers, and in-person communications, Defendants lead U.S. consumers to believe that the Todos Santos Hotel is associated with the Eagles and, among other things, served as the inspiration for the lyrics in ‘Hotel California,’ which is false.” [Attorney Laura Wytsma]
Even though the Hotel California album’s cover featured a photo of the Beverly Hills Hotel, the hotel referenced was a metaphor. “It’s basically a song about the dark underbelly of the American dream and about excess in America, which is something we knew a lot about,” [Don Henley – founding member, drummer and co-lead singer]
Ironically, the band used the album cover photo without permission, nearly landing them in court, until it was pointed out that the hotel had seen its bookings triple after the album was released. [Source BBC]
Ultimately in January 2018 the Defendants withdrew their application to trademark the name with the U.S. Patent and Trademark Office and the band’s lawsuit was jointly dismissed. The terms of settlement were undisclosed.
Case: Eagles Ltd v Hotel California Baja LLC et al, U.S. District Court, Central District of California, No. 17-03276
PHOTO CREDIT: Rick Diamond/Getty Images