“LL Cool J is hard as hell / Battle anybody I don’t care who you tell.” So opens LL Cool J’s 1985 hit song, “Rock the Bells,” the title of which was also the name of a now-discontinued music festival. The Rock & Roll Hall of Fame-nominated rapper is presently battling the founders of that festival, alleging they took the name without asking his permission.
Rolling Stone reports that LL Cool J is suing Guerilla Union Inc. for trademark infringement, claiming that the producers had been using it without ever consulting him. The complaint also alleges “cyberpiracy” over a URL established by Guerilla Union that includes the song title. LL, whose real name is James Todd Smith, says the use of the name is an act of fraud and counts as “unfair competition.”
Featuring a lineup of hip-hop artists, the Rock the Bells Festival was in operation from 2004 to 2013. According to Billboard, Guerilla Union filed trademark registrations over a decade ago for use of the song title in association with merchandise as well as live events. When tax problems and poor ticket sales caused the festival to shutter, Guerilla Union continued to maintain a web site using Rock the Bells as part of the URL as well as social media handles that utilize the name. Rolling Stone says the United States Patent and Trademark Office has designated Guerilla Union’s marks as “dead.” Meanwhile, LL Cool J has filed several trademark claims since 2014, and has a SiriusXM hip-hop channel called Rock the Bells.
In his complaint, the rapper/actor states he wants the court to stop Guerilla Union from using the phrase in any form and to recognize his mark as valid. He also wants the URL and social media accounts transferred to him, and all unused merchandise featuring the name to be delivered to him so he can destroy it.
“Rock the Bells” was the third single released from LL Cool J’s 1985 debut album, Radio. It peaked at #17 on the Hot R&B/Hip-Hop Songs chart.
When the Rock the Bells Festival debuted in 2004, it immediately captured attention by featuring a reunited Wu-Tang Clan, who had just completed a short European tour before headlining the festival in California. A film documenting that reunion appearance is also called “Rock the Bells.”