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VOL. 123 | NO. 44 | Tuesday, March 4, 2008

Sun Studio, Label Counterpart Agree to Settle

By Andy Meek

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OUT OF COURT: The owners of Memphis-based Sun Studio at 706 Union Ave. and the companion Sun record label in Nashville have settled a lawsuit over trademark issues. -- Photo Courtesy Of The Memphis Convention & Visitors Bureau

Both sides in a legal dispute between Sun Studio in Memphis and the companion Sun record label in Nashville have shaken hands and agreed to set aside their differences.

Representatives of each entity shared a handshake and had what was described as a friendly conversation about their joint future at a meeting in Nashville a few days ago, and a settlement agreement also has been signed. That recent encounter comes more than a year after both the Memphis studio and Nashville record label filed lawsuits against each other in what had become a contentious rift between the two companies.

At the heart of that rift was a basic dispute over the Sun brand and company logo. Or, to quote from a memorandum filed last year in Nashville with the U.S. District Court for the Middle District of Tennessee, "This is a tale of two (claims) to variations of the 'Sun' mark."

Marking territory

In October 2006, the Nashville Sun entity filed suit against the Memphis studio owners partly over the Memphis company's specially created Sun logo. It looked too similar to the Nashville company's, the record label argued.

Several months later, in June 2007, the Memphis owners of Sun Studio filed their own lawsuit in Shelby County Chancery Court arguing that the Nashville label sells and markets products that prominently display the words "Memphis, Tennessee." That's a violation, the suit claimed, of the two entities' license agreement.

To get an idea of the rancor that seemed to be building in the dispute, one of the individuals involved in the discussions said last year, when asked about the legal action, "You couldn't print in the paper what I think about the lawsuit."

As of today, however, the partnership appears to have been renewed between the two world-renowned music organizations, although neither party is discussing terms of the settlement. Shelby Singleton, who bought the Sun record label from Memphis icon Sam Phillips in the late 1960s and then moved it to Nashville, said the details likely will be announced at some point in the future.

"As soon as it gets completed, we'll probably put out a joint news release that tells everybody some of the details of the agreement," he said.

Reached for comment Friday morning, as the studio was packed with three school groups preparing to tour the Memphis landmark, Sun Studio owner John Schorr said the recent deal means the two entities can now pick up where they left off and continue a long and successful working relationship.

"My basic comment on the situation itself is I've always considered us friends, us and the guys in Nashville," Schorr said. "And basically, on Wednesday of (last) week, we agreed to continue that friendship for hopefully years into the future.

"They're good guys at Sun. We had a long pleasant conversation and agreed that everything that's been filed would be dropped."

He's still in the building

The chronology that led to the two companion businesses that straddle Memphis and Nashville began in the early 1950s, when Phillips started a recording studio at 706 Union Ave. called the Memphis Recording Service. He recorded artists on his label Sun Records.

Phillips ended his lease and closed that business in 1960. In 1968, he sold the record label to Singleton, a former record producer who today is the chairman of Sun Entertainment. That's the Nashville company that now owns the Sun logo and master recordings of such musicians as Jerry Lee Lewis, Johnny Cash and Carl Perkins.

Singleton bought the label from Phillips, the man credited with helping launch Elvis Presley's singing career, with money from his earlier success as a music producer.

Schorr and his employees have for several years operated the Memphis landmark both as a museum and as a still-operational recording studio. Another task has been to constantly find new ways of telling the old story of that Union Avenue storefront, which the tour guides work hard to prove is still filled with the ghosts of Memphis' most recognizable export to the rest of the world.

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