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Photo by David TitlowJust so you know, Mike Conley doesn't look anythinglike Maya Arulpragasam, a 28-year-old Sri Lankan woman.
And yet, if you're not eyeballing photos of both, you might get confused. Conley was a founding member of M.I.A., the by-way-of-Vegas OC punk band ("Boredom Is the Reason" is probably their best-known tune) who once opened for the Dead Kennedys, then signed a deal with Alternative Tentacles after being blessed by Jello Biafra himself. The band formed in 1978 and was actively gigging into the early '90s.
Arulpragasam, meanwhile, is a quickly rising London-based singer specializing in world-music-inflected dance beats, who's been garnering heaps of praise and media attention around the globe since last November, when the NewYorkerran a lengthy profile. Her publicity firm breathlessly describes her as "the next darling of the media," "a household name to the hip glitterati of the world" and "on the verge of stardom." She played to a packed tent at this year's Coachella.
The problem, though, is the moniker Arulpragasam records and performs under: M.I.A.
Conley, 40, who these days owns the bar Avalon in Costa Mesa, says he probably never would have heard of the other M.I.A. if she hadn't been listed in the Coachella advertisements. Almost as soon as the lineup was announced, his phone started ringing off the hook with people wanting to know if his old band had re-formed. They hadn't. So Conley found a lawyer.
"This isn't about money," explains Conley. "We wanted to contact [her record label] and let them know there was a band that was around before her. It's about protecting the M.I.A. name. I think it would be more important for them to clarify things because she's breaking big right now. We're just trying to figure out a way to resolve it."
Do a Google search of "M.I.A. punk," and a slew of websites will pop up that link to both Conley's band and Arulpragasam. Search on Amazon.com's popular music pull-down menu, and you'll see Arulpragasam's Arularand M.I.A.'s 2001-released LostBoysalbums right next to each other. The potential for confusion among fans of both acts is certainly there—someone, somewhere, is bound to think that Arulpragasam has a song called "I Hate Hippies."
"There's definitely been an infringement," Conley says. "At the very least, someone at her label wasn't doing their job. It's A&R 101—the first thing you check when you sign a band is their name, and if anybody else holds the rights to it."
Reached by the Weekly,a publicist for Arulpragasam's Interscope-distributed imprint, XL, said only, "The label has no comment."
No lawsuits have been filed—yet—and Conley's lawyer, Dean Serwin, hopes there won't have to be.
"We hope to amicably resolve the matter," Serwin says. "It's an unfortunate situation where you have an artist based outside the United States, and people over there not doing adequate research before they start using a name over here. We're not making any claim to rights outside the U.S.—we acknowledge that she has claims in the U.K., but we have a strong case based on the fact that Mike used the name for almost 20 years and that there's still a record in release. We just want to get this fixed."