Starship Wars

Former Jefferson Airplane and Jefferson Starship manager Bill Thompson and vocalist Grace Slick have filed a lawsuit in federal court in San Francisco against founding Airplane/Starship member Paul Kantner.

The suit charges that Kantner is using the band’s name for concerts and a lucrative promotional deal with Microsoft in violation of trademark rights and an $80,000 legal settlement Kantner signed in 1985.

Under the terms of that settlement, a copy of which was obtained by Pollstar, Kantner surrendered all of his shares in Jefferson Starship Inc. to Slick and Thompson, making Slick the majority shareholder.

In addition, all parties involved – Kantner, Thompson, Slick, Donny Baldwin, Pete Sears, Craig Chaquico, David Freiberg and Mickey Thomas – agreed that the name Jefferson Starship "shall be retired, effective immediately, with no individual or group, whether or not a party hereto, to be permitted to use the name, or any designation substantially similar to the name, in any way, including without limitation, in connection with records, concerts and merchandising."

The settlement does allow for the use of either the name Starship or The Starship by anyone still holding shares in Jefferson Starship Inc.(essentially Thompson and Slick), but expressly forbids Kantner from using "the words ‘Jefferson’ or ‘Airplane’ either alone or in conjunction with any other word(s) without the express written consent of Grace Slick."

The new suit alleges that since the early 1990’s, Kantner has performed using various names, including "Paul Kantner’s Jefferson Starship" and "Jefferson Starship: The Next Generation." It also alleges that during the same period of time, Mickey Thomas also performed as "Starship featuring Mickey Thomas."

Glendon Miskel, who represents Thompson and Slick in the suit, told Pollstar that they had tolerated these clear violations of the settlement because neither has ever wished Kantner, Thomas or any of the musicians performing with them any ill will, and didn’t want to deprive them of the right to support themselves.

Miskel was Thompson and Slick’s attorney in a similar lawsuit in 2001, when they, along with other members of Jefferson Airplane, went to court to stop Kantner from performing under that name. That suit resulted in an order which permanently enjoined Kantner from "referring to [himself] or any act of which [he] is a member as Jefferson Airplane or any other name that incorporates the name Jefferson Airplane," like Jefferson Airplane’s Volunteers.

Miskel said that the Microsoft deal, in which Kantner agreed to let the company use the name Jefferson Starship to promote its new Vista operating system in exchange for $100,000, was the tipping point. Not only did Kantner perform four free concerts around the country using the name, advertising for the concerts featured Slick’s image.

The new suit alleges that Kantner has cost Thompson, Slick and Jefferson Starship Inc. more than $750,000 and seeks to confiscate his profits and stop him from performing as Jefferson Starship.

Miskel said that Thompson and Slick would really like to resolve the dispute in a way that doesn’t damage either party.

"Grace Slick and Bill Thompson are continuing their efforts to work out their differences with Paul Kantner over his unauthorized use of the Jefferson Starship name," Miskel told Pollstar.

"They are hopeful that the issues raised in their recent lawsuit against Paul will be resolved in a fair manner that is respectful of everyone’s interests, and, at the same time, addresses the legitimate expectations of the Jefferson Starship and Jefferson Airplane fans."

Kantner apparently has a different take on the whole affair and said he hadn’t sold the Starship name, he merely agreed to let Microsoft use it for promotion of Vista and for the free concerts. He doesn’t seem at all fazed by the latest lawsuit.

"Thompson’s been suing people for years, and usually on the losing end," Kantner said. "This time the whole pack of cards is going to be coming down."

Attempts to reach Kantner for further comment were unsuccessful at press time.