Fans of hallowed D.C. hardcore quartet Fugazi might be a bit baffled by a recent addition to the group’s catalog, as listed by iTunes. The Internet music store now offers three Fugazi tracks from a Feb. 21 release titled Just a Bit of House—which sound as if the iconoclastic band has traded in its axes and drums for two turntables and a 505.
At least three iTunes shoppers were taken aback by the dance beats. “Beware—this is not what you expect,” warns one customer-reviewer, writing under the name Wilsons Brain. “Assuming you’re expecting what I was expecting. iTunes goofed.”
“DEFINETELY NOT FUGAZI!” writes another. “DO NOT BUY! :(”
Adds a third, “WOAH WOAH WOAH—Dischord’s lawyers are gonna have some work ahead…”
Indeed, it might seem to be yet another infringement on the oft-trampled intellectual-property rights of Fugazi’s local indie label, Dischord Records, whose devotees have raised a ruckus over other recent copyright conflicts with Nike (“Ad Nausea,” Show & Tell, 7/1/2005) and Fox Sports (“Minor Threat Level: Seeing Red,” Show & Tell, 11/11/2005). But an official with Chicago-based Music Plant Records, which produced the other “Fugazi” recording, asserts that his company is the real victim.
“We had used this name before they ever used it,” says Music Plant’s Tom Rains, who explains that the recording in question was originally released on vinyl “about 15 years ago” and only recently appeared on the online music store as the label has been “slowly re-releasing the older titles onto iTunes.”
Even if Rains’ memory is correct, Dischord could still call first dibs: D.C.’s Fugazi released its self-titled debut more than 17 years ago, in June 1988. Neither outfit, however, seems to have had the foresight to register the moniker with the U.S. Patent and Trademark Office. According to the agency’s Internet database, the only entities ever to have held legal rights to the name “Fugazi” are a North Carolina jeans company and a New Jersey backpack manufacturer, both of which have since abandoned the brand.
Dischord, naturally, prefers the do-it-yourself method. “We’ve never really gone the superlegal route,” says label spokesperson Alec Bourgeois. “There is common law, and that’s what we abide by, meaning you have the right to your name whether you register it with somebody or not. So if you make up a name and publish something, then that holds inherent rights, which are actually defensible in court.”
Despite its first-use claim, Music Plant isn’t interested in resolving the issue through the courts. “We’re not into going after people. They’re doing their thing. God bless ’em,” says Rains, who notes that Chicago’s Fugazi made only that one recording.
Of course, other entertainers have also made use of the word. Both Wesley Willis and Long Beach Dub All-Stars recorded songs titled “Fugazi.” British prog-rockers Marillion made a 1984 album by that name, and a track on comedian Todd Barry’s album Medium Energy is called “Fugazi.” All of which you can find on iTunes.
The popularity of the term “fugazi” is not lost on Rains, who notes that “there’s a really cool meaning behind the word”—albeit a definition he couldn’t immediately recall. For his benefit: Online slang bible Urban Dictionary defines it first as “[m]ilitary slang meaning ‘Fucked up situation’. Made famous by Vietnam war stories”—or, in acronym form, “Fucked Up, Got Ambushed, Zipped In.” Second, it’s defined as a “fiercely (and famously) independent punk band consisting of: Joe Lally, Brendan Canty, Guy Piciotto [sic] and Ian MacKaye.” While the Web-based word reference makes no mention of Chicago house music, it does list other definitions, including a “really bad knockoff, a copy” and “[s]omeone that copies or fronts.”—Chris Shott