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Policy: Law

Legal battle brews over name change to Rocky Top

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News,Business,Tennessee,Law

NASHVILLE, Tenn. (AP) — A former coal mining town's effort to revive its fortunes by changing its name to Rocky Top has hit a snag.

A development group has promised to turn the tiny East Tennessee town of Lake City into a tourist mecca if it goes through with the name change. The plan is to cash in on the fame of the song "Rocky Top," a bluegrass standard that has been recorded over the years by Dolly Parton, Glen Campbell and others.

But Gatlinburg-based House of Bryant, which owns the rights to the song and multiple Rocky Top trademarks, is suing.

House of Bryant was founded by country composers Boudleaux and Felice Bryant, who wrote "Rocky Top" in 1967. A complaint filed Monday in federal court in Knoxville claims the name change would injure the reputation, goodwill and business value of House of Bryant's Rocky Top trademarks.

House of Bryant is seeking an injunction to prevent Lake City from changing its name, plus court costs and damages.

There is no actual town of Rocky Top, Tenn. The lawsuit says the Bryants "were instead referring to a fictional or idyllic place" in their song. Last year, a group of East Tennessee public officials and businessmen began promoting the idea of creating a real Rocky Top. The group promised to help build a massive tourist complex in Lake City, a town of about 1,800 people, if it legally changed its name.

In November, the Lake City Council took the first step by voting to ask the Tennessee Legislature to authorize the name change. Since then, a bill has been introduced in both houses of the Legislature.

The lawsuit claims the Lake City name change plan infringes on House of Bryant's copyright and trademarks because it seeks to take advantage of the fame of the Bryants' song. The suit cites the example of a plan by developers to sell jars of Rocky Top branded candy corn, a loose reference to a line in the song that refers not to candy, but to moonshine: "Corn don't grow at all on Rocky Top, dirt's too rocky by far. That's why all the folks on Rocky Top get their corn from a jar."

According to the complaint, House of Bryant representatives met with Lake City officials and developers in December to discuss the name change. House of Bryant suggested the developers go ahead with their project using some other name.

"The Developers and Lake City admitted that no other name would work for the purposes of Lake City, and they insisted that the fame of ROCKY TOP was key to their scheme's success and that the name had to be changed to ROCKY TOP," the lawsuit states.

After the two sides failed to reach an agreement, Lake City sent House of Bryant a letter in January saying the town intended to move forward with the name change.

Lake City Mayor Tim Sharp had promised residents at the November council meeting not to involve the town in litigation "or anything that will cause any problem." Sharp could not immediately be reached on Wednesday to explain the change of posture. A representative of the developers also did not immediately return a call.

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