Tommy Tutone, one of the most famous one-hit wonders from the 1980s, is ticked off at people who are selling the phone number he made famous in his 1982 anthem "867-5309/Jenny."
The latest person to try and cash in on their association with the song is Justin Kaplan of Southampton, Pennsylvania, who plans to sell the number along with a wireless consulting business on eBay (EBAY) to pay for medical-school tuition, according to media reports. Kaplan, whose voicemail plays the 1980s anthem, could not be reached for comment.
Bidding on Kaplan's auction of what he says is one of the few available "Jenny" phone numbers has reached $5,035 as of Thursday afternoon. The auction ends next week. Another "Jenny" number reportedly sold for $350,000 on eBay a few months ago (though Tutone and his management team believe the auction was phony).
Tutone argues that the only reason why the number is famous was because his song made it famous. "They are messing with my trademark," he says. "I find it very annoying." His desire to protect the number is understandable; the song is one of the most recognizable tunes of the 1980s.
But whether Tutone has a case is difficult to say. Cases involving trademarks and patents tend to linger in courts at great expense; generally, large companies try to settle them. Tutone might have a case if the numbers' sellers use the song to imply the musician's endorsement. When the McCain presidential campaign last year used Jackson Browne's hit "Running on Empty" without persmission, the singer won a settlement and apology.
Tutone (né Heath), 55, still plays "Jenny" in concerts as he works with producers in Nashville on new music. He even owns a few "867-5309" numbers himself, which he uses to send text messages to fans. Anyone who sells the number for big bucks should give Tutone "half of what they make," he asserts. "Otherwise, they will hear from my lawyer."
Interestingly, Jenny herself exists: Tutone was supposed to pass on her number to a bandmember but instead wrote it on the bathroom wall, following the narrative of the song. "She was a good sport about it," says Tutone, who has never revealed her identity.
Take the first steps to building your portfolio.View Course »