The Kentucky Court of Appeals ruled last Friday (1/11) in an ongoing legal battle between the Jerusalem Ridge Bluegrass Music Foundation and its director, Campbell Mercer, and Ohio County (KY) Industrial Foundation over the use of Bill Monroe’s name in promoting the Jerusalem Ridge festival.
The dispute had arisen about the promotion of the festival on land adjacent to that encompassing the Bill Monroe Homeplace. Mercer had been hired by the county in 2001 to manage the Monroe property following his death, and to promote it as a tourist destination for bluegrass fans.
As part of this arrangement, Mercer presented the Jerusalem Ridge Bluegrass Festival each year, featuring music in the Monroe vein. Until 2012, that is, when the relationship between Ohio County and the festival fell apart. Mercer was set to move the festival to property he owns alongside the former festival site, believing that the Jerusalem Ridge Bluegrass Music Foundation had received the right to promote the event under the aegis of Bill Monroe.
A 4-day festival was held last year on Mercer’s property, which led to Ohio County bringing an action against Jerusalem Ridge, resulting in a ruling against the festival.
According to an Associated Press story Friday morning, the Appeals Court ruled in favor of Mercer, who argued that Ohio County had made verbal commitments to assign the use of Monroe’s name for the festival after they had struck a deal with James Monroe, Bill’s heir, in 1999 for the use of his father’s name and likeness.
The appeals court decision reverses a lower court, which found that Ohio County held the intellectual property rights to Monroe’s name and could stop the festival from using it.
Judge Joy A. Moore, writing for a three-judge panel, concluded that county officials meant to grant the festival and its director legal right to use Monroe’s name, but failed to formalize the agreement in writing before sour notes struck the relationship when the festival’s director and officials had a falling out in 2004.
At this point, we have been unable to ascertain whether this court decision is final, or whether the county may pursue further litigation. We will follow up on as soon as we have additional information.