When you think of “Hotel California,” your head probably fills with snippets of the classic 1976 Eagles song — the seductive 12-string intro that every 13-year-old tries to learn, the epic guitar battle between Don Felder and Joe Walsh. Or maybe you think of the completely unrelated Hotel California in Mexico, which the Eagles have accused of trying to cash in on their hit song.
The lawsuit [PDF] filed in federal court in Los Angeles this week accuses owners of the hotel in Todos Santos, Mexico, of infringing on its trademark by catering to tourists’ love of the song.
The hotel’s owners “actively encourage” guests to associate the place with the song, the lawsuit states, by targeting advertising to U.S. consumers, selling merchandise with the Hotel California name on it, and piping in that song and other Eagles hits through the hotel’s sound system.
One t-shirt sold in the gift shop refers to the hotel as “legendary,” a designation only makes sense if the Todos Santo Hotel is somehow connected with the Eagles’ famous and legendary song, which it is not,” the complaint reads.
The defendants also have a pending application with the U.S. Patent and Trademark Office [PDF] to register the Hotel California name “for key chains, guitar picks, posters, t-shirts, sweatshirts, bathrobes, and playing cards,” the lawsuit states.
All this leads tourists to believe that the hotel “is associated with the Eagles and, among other things, served as the inspiration for the lyrics in ‘Hotel California,’ which is false.”
The lawsuit points to online reviews that it says makes it clear that people who visit the hotel and buy merchandise believe it’s associated with the Eagles.
“Although the Eagles never played here, their songwriter was inspired by the hotel and wrote the hit song,” one reviewer writes.
“The famous Hotel California which inspired the Eagles to write about it is a MUST SEE experience,” another says.
These things are “likely to cause confusion, mistake or deception, in that consumers and others are likely to believe that Defendants Infringing Merchandise is authorized, sponsored or approved by, or otherwise affiliated with” the Eagles, the lawsuit reads, accusing the hotel of willfully disregarding the band’s rights.
Though the the hotel was originally named Hotel California when it was opened in 1950, it went through a few name and ownership changes until 2001, when its new owners bought it. They started marketed the hotel as “Hotel California,” in an effort to “revitalize the hotel and create a reputation for it, based at least partially on the hotel’s reputed, but false, connection to the Eagles,” the lawsuit claims.
Because the hotel’s owners never tried to license the trademark, the lawsuit claims, they’re “causing substantial injury” to the band. The lawsuit is seeking a variety of damages and a halt to any infringement.