Earlier this week, Music Box Theater issued a press release announcing Katie Rife as the new Senior Programmer for Cinepocalypse 2020. Ostensibly the fourth year of this annual event, Rife’s introduction, coupled with public statements by the festival’s founder, Josh Goldbloom, mark a noticeable change in direction. Following the public announcement, Goldbloom cited “a dispute with the Music Box Theatre GM” while explaining that neither he nor his programming team would be involved with this year’s festival. He further took issue with continued use of the name, saying “This is not Cinepocalypse, and the announcement of it as such is careless, deceptive, and disrespectful.”

“This is not Cinepocalypse”

Music Box Theater has hosted the Cinepocalypse festival since its inception in 2017, and now claims ownership of the festival name. Goldbloom, who still tweets from “@cinepocalypse”, disputes this claim in no uncertain terms. He released a follow-up statement explaining that he “requested that the name ‘Cinepocalypse’ not be used without [his] consent.” He mentioned an unspecified dispute involving “unprofessional behavior towards a colleague by a Music Box Theater employee” and lamented budget cuts, a smaller staff, and a smaller schedule. Goldbloom concluded saying “I challenge their motives, their use of the name, and their complete disregard of your expectations.”

However, the Music Box Theater has released a statement of its own promising to increase the programming team and citing an independent contractor agreement between Goldbloom and Music Box. The portion of the independent contractor agreement made public by Music Box does state that Goldbloom “has no claim to or ownership of the name ‘Cinepocalypse.’ ” Goldbloom responded by publishing a portion of his attorney’s response, disputing Music Box’s reliance on the documents it referenced.

In addition, Music Box has claimed ownership of the festival name by filing a trademark application with the US Patent and Trademark Office. The application, filed by lawyers at Taft Stettinius & Hollister LLP, lists Southport Music Box Corporation as the owner of the name ‘Cinepocalypse.’ And, as you might suspect, Southport is the corporate owner of Music Box Theater.

Goldbloom “has no claim to or ownership of the name ‘Cinepocalypse.'”

While Southport’s application asserts sole ownership of the name–under threat of some pretty serious penalties, mind you–the owner of a trademark is the one who makes use of it in a commercial setting (e.g. promoting a film festival). In addition, it’s possible for a trademark to be co-owned by two different parties (e.g. two parties collaborating on a project). Setting aside whether Goldbloom is the rightful owner of the name, if he merely has rights in common with Southport then the latter’s trademark application may very well be void.

For example, in a 2017 trademark dispute, an application was challenged by a former business partner of the applicant. In that case, the challenger established that it had at least some ownership claim. Thus, the application was voided since the applicant lacked an exclusive ownership claim, and in the case of a co-owned trademark the application must name all of the co-owners.

Whether Goldbloom could achieve a similar result in this situation depends heavily on facts of which the public is probably unaware. The precise legal relationship between Goldbloom, Southport Music Box Corporation, and any legal entity (if any) created to operate Cinepocalypse, remains unknown. However, the portion of his lawyer’s response that Goldbloom made public concludes that “a partnership exists between” Goldbloom and Music Box.

There is potential for a win-win for horror fans

We reached out to representatives of both parties for comments. Senior Programmer Katie Rife issued the following statement: It’s unfortunate that Josh Goldbloom has chosen to ignore the performance issues cited in Music Box’s statement, and continues to pursue a biased narrative that leaves out key factors behind the Music Box’s decision and doesn’t align with my personal experience as a programmer at Cinepocalypse over the past two years, and a media sponsor the year before. Despite this roadblock, I and the rest of the programming team remain committed to putting out the best, most diverse, and most exciting edition of the festival yet in 2020. Female-led programming teams are still a rarity in the festival world, and I only hope I can live up to the faith and support that so many people in this community have expressed towards me in the past few days.

Similarly, Music Box Theater also provided a statement: At this time the Music Box Theatre does not feel the need to expand outside of the statement we have already made [on twitter]. We are taking the issue at hand very seriously and object to those that propose we are making light of affairs. Our public statement is concise, factual, and lays out our intentions for the future and longevity of the festival, as well as our decision to not invite back one singular member of the team, and any other matters or concerns are and will be dealt with through private channels.

UPDATE (01/17/2019 10:30 AM): Josh Goldbloom has provided the following statement: The false statements and frankly unprofessional behavior from Music Box and now Katie Rife (who continues to make this dispute about her and has no knowledge of the inner-workings of the fest despite her grandstanding) is absolutely absurd and hardly worth commenting on. It’s clear that this has become a coordinated gaslighting effort to save face, and it’s shameful to everyone involved. On top of all this, it’s now come to light that they filed a trademark on a brand I built the week after our dispute. C’mon, that’s at best shady and a complete gut punch to artists everywhere. This is far from over.

ORIGINAL ARTICLE CONTINUES: We’ll update the story with any additional responses. However, it’s worth pointing out that both parties are very likely leaving out parts of the story in their public statements. It’s just human nature. In addition, keeping some information private should ultimately help the parties reach an amicable solution and restore any goodwill that might be lost over the dispute.

Submissions are currently open, and, for his part, Goldbloom has promised “Lots of cool shit soon.” There is potential for a win-win for horror fans, as the result may be a new genre film festival to add to the calendar. Stay tuned to Modern Horrors as this story develops.