Superstar model Niki Taylor is a Miami native with a discreet beauty mark a centimeter above her upper lip, a body of perfection, and a fondness for rock and roll. Her favorite band: Van Halen. It's surprising and remarkable she'd choose that veteran metal act. You'd think she'd be in love with another rock band: the Niki Taylors.
Niki Taylor hasn't heard the Niki Taylors play, but she's heard about them. So has her attorney. And the band, in turn, has heard from her attorney.
The four musicians -- Suthutu Nakamandek "Chris" Taylor, That Pat Taylor, Black Strap Taylor, and William Nigel Taylor -- are not related to Niki Taylor, or, for that matter, to each other. They say they've been working together for years, but only recently decided to become a "legitimate" act, playing live shows and working on an album. "We had problems, like our original singer dying. Even after all that, it took us a long time to come up with a name for the group," Chris Taylor says. "We'd think of something and two of us would love it and two of us would hate it. I brought up the 'Niki Taylors' as a joke. Everybody thought it would be funny. Then it got funnier. And funnier. Marilyn Manson told me he thinks it's the best band name he's heard. Marilyn Manson said that!"
This past July 30 the freshly monikered and well-rehearsed outfit made its live debut at Primal Scream in Fort Lauderdale. To advertise the show, which also featured the Stimulators, fliers were circulated. Chris Taylor claims that he ran into Niki Taylor at a Broward club, Squeeze, and personally handed her one of the playbills.
Big mistake. "Niki doesn't know them, but she started seeing ads about them playing down there," says George Dassinger, who represents Taylor for the New York modeling agency IMG. "I told Niki and her mom that it was an offhand compliment. They said, 'But they've taken our name.' I said it's a compliment and we should look at it that way." Nonetheless, he adds, Niki Taylor had her attorney write a letter to the band warning them about the dangers of merchandising the name. The letter exists, the threats are real, but Dassinger is eager to put the best spin possible on what seems like a trivial pursuit by a famous person consumed with self-importance. Despite the lawyer's letter, he insists Nik, as he calls her, finds something "cool" about a rock band appropriating her name. And Dassinger adds, "We can't stop them from using the name."
Taylor's attorney, George Stein of New York, apparently humorless and not as publicity-savvy as Dassinger, declines comment and refuses to provide a copy of the letter to New Times.
Local legal experts, though, say her flack is wrong and that Niki Taylor could have a strong case should she get really bitchy and try to force the Niki Taylors to change their name. Trademark specialist John Malloy, of the Miami firm Malloy Downey & Malloy, points out: "A famous person is entitled to the commercial benefit of their celebrity. There's also the right of privacy. It's the right to be left alone." A court could consider both financial damage and the perceived injury to a person's feelings. Trademark law, Malloy adds, allows her to show that if her name had some kind of secondary meaning -- if the public associates it with products or organizations other than the person herself -- then the band's appropriation of her name creates some confusion. "One last aspect regards false advertising or misleading description of fact. It could be said they are falsely suggesting that they have some association with her."
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Prominent Miami entertainment attorney Richard Wolfe agrees. "In my opinion the band has a big problem. Because Taylor has established secondary meaning, she has exclusive rights to that name. It would be clear in a court's mind that the band is using her stature to gain notoriety. That would lead to confusion in the minds of the public."
Even without such information, Chris Taylor was intimidated by Stein's letter. The band kicked around the idea of changing its name A to Niki's Lawyers. But for their upcoming gig, next Wednesday at Squeeze, the group is circulating another flier still billing themselves as the Niki Taylors. Considering that Niki Taylor turned eighteen in March, she can legally be admitted to the show.
It's unlikely she'll be able to make it. "Nik just played in a huge benefit softball game for Special Olympics, shot a magazine cover, had the biggest turn-out ever for a signing A of her Landmark calendar at the B. Dalton's in Garden City A and she's on her way to Australia to shoot her 1995 calendar for Landmark," Dassinger explains. "And she's working as a correspondent for NBC down there in Miami." For WTVJ-Channel 4, she's a contributing reporter who covers fashion and beauty in South Florida.
Busy girl. Expanding into new career venues. Maybe she could eventually form her own rock band. One problem. What she would call it. The Van Halens?