Electronic music A-lister and DJ John Summit says he’s changing the name of his Off the Grid record label after being sued by a smaller company with the same name. But the owner of that company says there was “never a lawsuit.” So, what really happened? Billboard found out.
Summit, who has worked with Green Velvet, Dennis Ferrer, Kaskade, Diplo and others, made headlines in the dance world Tuesday (July 18) when he tweeted that he was “gonna need to rebrand” after facing a trademark infringement lawsuit and a “7+ figures” demand over the name of his label.
“Getting sued for trademark over my ‘off the grid’ label name by a small promoter even tho it’s a common phrase and i built up this brand 100% myself,” Summit wrote in the tweet, which has since been deleted but was seen by 1.1 million Twitter users by Thursday. “Fucking sucks when ppl want to screw u over but it’s looking like i’m gonna need to rebrand guys.”
That smaller promoter was Mikey Made Cromie, who organizes dance music events in Southern California and Las Vegas under the same Off The Grid name. A day after Summit’s tweets, Cromie responded to them in a Facebook post, saying “there never was a lawsuit or a demand for seven figures” but confirming that he had indeed hired an attorney to send a cease-and-desist letter to Summit.
“At this time his management contacted me. They first asked if we could co exist. I said no, the damage was already done and I just wanted them to stop using the name,” Cromie wrote in his retelling of the dispute. “They then asked if I would sell. I said that I had put way too much into it and would only sell if it was life changing money. They said they weren’t willing to spend that type of money and that was that.”
A review of federal court records confirms that no trademark infringement lawsuit was filed against Summit or his company by Cromie. But in a copy of the June 3 cease-and-desist letter, obtained by Billboard, a lawyer representing Cromie clearly suggested that litigation would follow if Summit didn’t stop using the name and agree to drop it permanently.
Summit announced the launch of Off The Grid in March 2022, tweeting that he was “so stoked to finally announce my own record label/event brand. as my sound has grown to be all things house & techno, i knew it was time to make my own imprint with nothing off limits.” The label has since released music by artists including Mau P, Danny Avila and Summit himself, and has hosted live events, including a camping event in Tennessee this past April.
Cromie, meanwhile, has been using Off The Grid since 2015 on dance music events, including a flagship three-day “campout.” Events typically draw crowds of between 500 and 1,000 attendees, according to Cromie. The 2023 campout, set for October at a Southern California ranch, will feature artists including J Phlip, Ardala, Colette, DJ Heather and Mary Droppinz. Previous events have featured Planet of the Drums, DJ Craze, Doc Martin and Miguel Migs.
Trademark rights are created when someone starts using a specific name or logo to sell a particular good or service, and they empower the owner to stop somebody else from using similar branding on related products. Rooted more in consumer protection than intellectual property, trademarks are meant to prevent buyers from being confused about the source of the products they purchase.
In their letter to Summit, Cromie’s lawyers argued that he has clearly built those kind of trademark rights over the eight years he’s been using the Off The Grid name for his events. And they argued that Summit’s use of an identical name, for a record label and events company that produces and promotes the exact same genre of music, would clearly lead to precisely the kind of “consumer confusion” that trademarks are supposed to prevent.
It’s important to note that neither Cromie nor Summit own a federal trademark registration on the phrase – the piece of paper that enables a brand owner to put that shiny ® symbol next to their brand name. Records at the federal trademark office show that Cromie applied for one in March 2022; Summit applied for one in May 2022. Both applications remain pending as of Friday.
But such registrations are less important than, say, a federal patent; without them, brand owners can still claim trademark rights (that’s what that ™ symbol means) and sue people for infringing them. The crucial question under American trademark law is not who filed first with the government, but who was first to commercially use a name in real life and the extent to which consumers recognize it.
In an email to Billboard, Cromie complained that other media outlets had simply been “restating John’s side of the story,” and reiterated that there had never been a million-dollar demand. He acknowledged that his cease-and-desist letter aimed to “have the brand shut down,” but he said he was justified in making those demands.
“The truth is they knew about us the whole time and thought we were so small of a company that they could use the name without any recourse,” Cromie said. “Please do your research and write a fair and truthful article.”
A representative for Summit did not return a request for comment.
As of Friday (July 21), the exact status of the dispute is unknown. The website for Summit’s label remains live and features the existing Off The Grid branding. And just today (July 21), the company released a new track from producer Danny Avila. But from his public statements, it appears that Summit has already resigned himself to renaming his label at some point.
“i REFUSE to get threatened for 7+ figures over a LABEL NAME when the entire worth of OFF THE GRID has been built thru people: my team, the artists, and the incredible community we’ve built…” he wrote in one of his since-deleted tweets. “in the end the name means nothing, the people is what matters and we ain’t goin nowhere.”