Earth Wind & Fire ‘alumni’ band promoter says he’ll wait for judge’s ruling before changing act name

Despite a federal judge’s ruling that an “alumni” band infringed on Earth Wind & Fire’s trademark, the promoter behind the “legacy reunion” act says he’ll wait for a future ruling before deciding on a name change.

Richard Smith, founder of Substantial Music Group, lost a year-long copyright infringement battle when U.S. District Judge Frederick A. Moreno on Monday filed his ruling supporting Earth Wind & Fire’s claim that promotions for an act comprised of former session players confused ticket buyers into thinking they would see the official band.

The judge said that the name of the act, Legacy Reunion: Earth, Wind & Fire Alumni, differed from those of other bands that included the word “tribute” in their names. The defendants’ name, Moreno wrote, “implies not that they are ‘covering’ or ‘reproducing’ the music but were the original performers.”

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Responding to a reporter’s questions on Tuesday about whether the ruling would compel an immediate name change, Smith demurred.

“Judge Moreno has yet to clarify what the alumni members can or cannot do with the name to be in compliance with his ruling, so the victory dance might be a little early,” Smith said via email.

Smith added, “EWF has used its PR machine to distort and mischaracterize this entity as ‘the fake Earth Wind & Fire’ tribute band when in fact it was always instead a reunion of former alumni who served under the late great Maurice (White) while coming together to perform the hits.

“It never misrepresented itself and was exactly as stated: Legacy Reunion of Earth Wind & Fire alumni,” he wrote.

Smith last year identified himself as a member of the band for five years who performed on two tours and one album.

The trademark infringement complaint, filed in March 2023 in U.S. District Court in Miami, said that since about 2019, Substantial Music Group LLC and co-defendant Stellar Communications Inc. hired musicians who played “for brief periods up to three decades previously” as well as others who had never played with Earth Wind & Fire to perform songs that the real band made famous.

Listings on popular ticketing websites, including StubHub, for the Legacy Reunion show use images of the original Earth Wind & Fire members while other sites commingle listings for the two acts, the suit claimed.

It also said the alumni act used text and graphics confusingly similar to the authentic Earth Wind & Fire trademark logo and Egyptian-themed imagery until the original band sent a “cease-and-desist” letter in 2019.

Afterward, the promoters changed to “less obvious” but “still confusing” uses that still incorporated the Earth Wind & Fire name and artwork reminiscent of one of the band’s album covers.

As evidence of the confusion created, the band submitted reviews from fans who said they were disappointed when they learned they bought tickets for a show that did not feature any original band members.

The official Earth Wind & Fire touring group features three original members who perform under a license controlled by the sons of Maurice White, who died in 2016.

The alumni band is scheduled to perform three shows in North Carolina, Indiana and Illinois prior to a penalty trial scheduled the week of May 28.

The band’s attorney, David I. Greenbaum, on Tuesday said the ruling should compel the alumni band to make changes prior to the penalty trial.

But Smith on Tuesday seemed to rule that out, saying, “We’ll see how Moreno clarifies use of the name.”

Ron Hurtibise covers business and consumer issues for the South Florida Sun Sentinel. He can be reached by phone at 954-356-4071, on Twitter @ronhurtibise or by email at