News & Politics

Coachella Sues Moechella, Saying the DC Protests Infringe on the Music Festival’s Trademark

The suit may hinge on the question of whether protests are subject to copyright law.

Justin "Yaddiya" Johnson. Photograph by Evy Mages

The Coachella Music Festival sued the organizers of the DC music events known as Moechella in US District Court for the District of Columbia Wednesday, claiming that local promoters Justin “Yaddiya” Johnson and Kelsye Adams “are intentionally trading on the goodwill” generated by the California festival’s events.

This disagreement has popped up several times in the past, and Johnson tells Washingtonian he agreed to stop using the name Moechella for music events organized by his Long Live Go-Go platform. “I have no problem pivoting from the name,” he says. Coachella and Goldenvoice—the Los Angeles-based music-promotion giant owned by the Anschutz Entertainment Group—state among their bill of particulars a shooting last summer at a Moechella event that they say tarnishes their brand. They also list the fact that Johnson told Washington City Paper last year, “I’m not going to stop using the name. It’s a protest” and that a Long Live Go-Go email sent early last month used the word “Moechella.”

The question of protests appears to be key to this action—the City Paper article discusses the impromptu events that Johnson guided after a Metro PCS store in DC was forced to stop playing go-go on its outdoor speakers in 2019, triggering demonstrations. Johnson notes he didn’t come up with the name Moechella (a play on the DC-area slang “moe”). Johnson’s attorney Nate Kelly concurs: “He didn’t name it Moechella, and the use in regards to the global DC protest movement is not something that he can choose to use or not.” 

Johnson likens the situation to the local cultural change that ensued when area football and basketball teams changed their names, and says he’d hoped to ask people around here for help to replace it: “The name was brought to me by the people, so I want to make them a part of renaming it,” he says.

Both Johnson and Kelly say Johnson wasn’t served with the suit. “I just found out through Twitter,” Johnson says, and then watched in dismay as the Instagram accounts @moechella and @longlivegogodc vanished and the @longlivegogodmv account he’d set up to replace them was shorn of content. Johnson and Kelly say they’re evaluating their options and hope to speak with AEG’s counsel soon. They both say they’d like to reach an agreement. (An attorney for Coachella and Goldenvoice has not yet replied to Washingtonian‘s request for comment.) 

Kelly says the name Moechella wasn’t used commercially, except if you count in an educational project: Johnson has now launched a program called School of Go-Go that teaches kids how to play the music, and it will open a new space next month. “The fact is that they want to stop the use of the name in the protest movement, whether or not they have the right to do it,” Kelly says. “It is a matter of law and can be decided later if they’re unwilling to come to a compromise.” 

Johnson says that while all that is being worked out, he’ll continue to play music: He’s got a new single, “Bounce Beat Baby” (in which he floats the prospect of one day running for mayor), is working with the art collective A of G Studio, and has shows planned later this month with his group Yaddiya and the the Honest Politix.

I asked him about AEG’s request for damages in the suit. “We don’t charge for our events,” Johnson says. “I guess that’s a question you ask them.”

Here’s the suit:

Coachella Yaddiya Suit by Washingtonian Magazine on Scribd

Senior editor

Andrew Beaujon joined Washingtonian in late 2014. He was previously with the Poynter Institute,, and Washington City Paper. He lives in Del Ray.