In 2009, I saw RATT and Extreme live at the Hard Rock in Las Vegas. I had seen RATT many times over the years. But this night was special because RATT was celebrating Out Of The Cellar’s 25th anniversary by playing the entire album, cover-to-cover. The concert blew me away and made me circle back to 1984 and appreciate again that Out Of The Cellar is more than just the seminal track, “Round And Round”. It’s all killer and no filler, including the last two songs – “Scene Of The Crime” and “I’m Insane”. But did you know that RATT was sued for stealing “Scene Of The Crime” and “I’m Insane”? Well, if not, grab some popcorn. Here’s the story and how I learned about it…
RATT’s Out Of The Cellar was my gateway drug. I’ve been eating, breathing, and sleeping hard rock and heavy metal ever since. Thanks, RATT!!! But after the 1980’s ended I had to grow up. Eventually, I chopped off my mullet and went to law school (that’s right, I’m a metalhead attorney). And one day in law school the damnedest thing happened. We were learning about a law called the Lanham Act, and in the process, we ended up studying a Federal court decision from 1988, Lamothe v. Atlantic Recording Corp., wherein a couple guys sued RATT and Atlantic Records for stealing the songs “I’m Insane” and “Scene Of The Crime”, which appeared on the Out Of The Cellar album. I’m a huge RATT fan, so it immediately piqued my interest. I glanced around the room and could tell nobody else gave a fuck (lawyers are lame…I didn’t even want to know what the assholes in that room listened to in the 1980’s).
The story all started when guitarist, Robinson L. Crosby (aka Robbin Crosby), was in a band called Mac Meda. During that time, Crosby co-wrote the songs in question with his Mac Meda bandmates, Rob Lamothe and Ronald Jones. Eventually, Crosby joined RATT. Long story short, RATT released Out Of The Cellar in 1984 and it took the world by storm…and it included “Scene Of The Crime” and “I’m Insane”. So, what’s the big deal, you ask? Well, pull out your old Out Of The Cellar CD and take a good look. That’s right, Crosby and Juan Croucier are credited with writing “Scene Of The Crime” and “I’m Insane”. Mere oversight? Perhaps. Purposeful false advertisement? Perhaps. Either way, it’s a big no-no. It’s what we lawyers call a “compensable” no-no.
Needless to say, Lamothe and Jones wanted their cut and they sued RATT and Atlantic for violating section 43(a) of the Lanham Act. In short, the Lanham Act is the Federal law that prohibits copyright infringement and false advertising. The Lanham Act protects the originator of a product (in this case, “product” means songs) from being involuntarily deprived of the economic value that stems from the public knowledge that he/she is the true source (in this case, “true source” means songwriters) of the product. It also protects the purchaser from being deceived about the true source of the product. A couple of the ways in which a person can violate the Lanham Act are by doing things like “passing off” and “reverse passing off.” Have you ever been to a flea market where a guy is selling Coach handbags for ridiculously low prices? Well, he purchased those bags through the back alley door of a sweatshop in East L.A. for a couple bucks each, slapped Coach tags on them, and is now “passing them off” as the real McCoy. Enterprising as he may be, that guy is an asshole. What he’s doing is called “passing off,” and it’s prohibited under the Lanham Act.
As the name suggests, “reverse passing off” is the opposite of “passing off,” but it’s just as illegal. It’s when someone takes someone else’s stuff – perhaps a song or two that appear on an album that sells over four million copies – and advertises it as his own. Lamothe and Jones were accusing RATT of “reverse passing off.” In other words, they were accusing RATT of taking Mac Meda songs and passing them off as RATT songs.
In court, RATT didn’t deny that Lamothe and Jones co-wrote the songs. Instead, RATT’s defense was that they kinda sorta didn’t really violate the Lanham Act because their designation of the product’s source was partially correct…after all, they did the right thing by crediting at least one of the songs’ co-writers, Robbin Crosby.
Ultimately, the Court ruled against RATT!!! The Court, in its ruling, wrote, “[The policies of] ensuring that the producer of a good or service receives appropriate recognition and that the consuming public receives full information about the origin of the good, apply with equal force here. An incomplete designation of the source of the good or service is no less misleading because it is partially correct. Misbranding a product to only partially identify its source is the economic equivalent of passing off one person’s product under the name or mark of another.” TRANSLATION – “You Should Know By Now,” RATT, that if you don’t properly credit songwriters, you will become a “Wanted Man.” But you didn’t properly credit Mr. Lamothe and Mr. Jones. As a result, “You’re In Trouble.” What are you gonna do? You’re going to compensate Mr. Lamothe and Mr. Jones so they don’t have to come “Back For More.”
By the way, you may have heard of Rob Lamothe. He’s the singer in a cool band called Riverdogs featuring Vivian Campbell (Dio, Whitesnake, Def Leppard) on guitar. Their new album, California, is due out on July 7, 2017, and you can read Decibel Geek‘s album review coming soon.
You can read the Court’s decision here in its entirety: Lamothe v. Atlantic Recording Corp., 847 F. 2d 1403 – Court of Appeals, 9th Circuit 1988
Take a look at the videos below to compare the original Mac Meda song versions to the RATT versions.
Here’s the original Mac Meda version of “Scene Of The Crime”:
For comparison, here’s the RATT version of “Scene Of The Crime”:
Here’s the original Mac Meda version of “I’m Insane”:
For comparison, here’s the RATT version of “I’m Insane”: