Zac Brown Sued for Copyright Infringement by Ex-Employee
Zac Brown Band front man Zac Brown is being sued in a Georgia court by a former employee of one of his subsidiary companies. Kyle Landas, who worked for the singer-songwriter at a custom leather studio that he owns in Georgia, has filed a complaint alleging copyright infringement, unfair competition and creating a hostile work environment, among other charges.
According to Landas’ complaint (available in full at Nashville Gab), he began creating custom leather guitar straps in 2008 and giving them as gifts to prominent musicians as a way of increasing his reputation. When he met Brown in June of 2010, he presented the singer with a guitar strap embossed with a symbol he developed called the Unity Tree.
Brown subsequently offered Landas a job at Southern Hide, a leather studio he owns in Georgia, but Landas’ brief alleges that his employment went wrong before it even officially began. When he was shown the cover for Zac Brown Band’s upcoming album ‘You Get What You Give,’ he noted that the cover featured the Unity Tree design in several places, and when Landas complained that he had not given permission, he says was told that he would receive royalties for its use.
He began working for Brown’s company in August of 2010, and he claims that his employment was difficult, alleging that Brown, his general manager, Scott Shelton, and other members of Southern Hide management “created or facilitated the creation of a hostile work environment that discouraged employees from discussing their legitimate work-related concerns.” His complaint alleges that when he tried to discuss his working conditions, Scott repeatedly told him to “stop being a p—-y,” and that Scott regularly threatened employees and used abusive language toward them.
Landas also alleges that when he approached Brown directly about the unauthorized use of his Unity Tree design — which ultimately appeared on t-shirts, key chains and all manner of related merchandise, as well as in official logos at concert sites, online and in promotional materials for the band – he was told that it had been registered under one of Brown’s other companies and was no longer his property. He says Brown became irate whenever he would raise the issue and screamed and yelled at him, trying to force him to sign a work-for-hire agreement in which he would cede any further claim to his design.
After he repeatedly refused to sign the work-for-hire agreement, Landas was fired on August 15, 2012, and filed his suit on Nov. 30 after Brown and his companies failed to respond multiple cease and desist letters. The suit names Brown, the Zac Brown Band, their record label, and a number of Brown’s companies as defendants.
Landas is asking for a permanent injunction against all merchandise bearing the Unity Tree design, the recall of all products bearing the logo, seizure and impoundment of all merchandise bearing the design that’s still in Brown’s control, and all of the profits derived from sales of merchandise bearing the design. He is also asking for $150,000 in damages and recovery of attorney’s fees.
Zac Brown’s publicist has not yet responded to Taste of Country’s request for comment.