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Band Names

Band Names

June 20, 2008

A problem faced by bands sometimes is the discovery of another band sharing the same name. Unfortunately this rarely happens at the early stages when a band first adopts its name. Often, a substantial amount of marketing and resources will have been invested into promoting the band’s name on CDs, DVDs and merchandise before it’s discovered that other musicians are using the same name.

The fact that bands with substantial record label support can fail to identify pre existing band names is evident from the dispute involving boy band Blue (reported here by BBC).The case erupted when a previous band of the same name took exception to the use of the name.

In cases such as the Blue dispute, the goodwill in the band’s name may have spread into popular culture already, and substantial marketing costs incurred, so that any rebranding will be unwelcome. On the other hand passing off proceedings will be equally unappealing. However, something has to be done (in Blue, the two bands were able to continue using their names within their distinct geographic areas, but this is not always going to be a suitable settlement option for other bands faced with the same situation).

The problem of conflicting band names seems prevalent in the United States judging by the Seattle Trademark Lawyer reports here on some of the many legal disputes. Obviously a number of disputes do not reach the courts – usually due to the lack of resources to litigate. Reaching a compromise is then the only viable way to resolve the question.

However, the most cost effective approach for any band would be to prevent a conflict arising in the first place. A music lawyer tells me that in the music industry, the Register of Band Names is used for registering a band’s name. This is considered to be good enough for staking a claim to a name – a cost effective alternative to registering the name as a trade mark.

Clearly the idea behind such a registration is that new bands will check the register before proceeding with a name, and should a conflict arise at a later date, a band would be able to point to its registration as an indication of their prior rights to the name.

Discogs, a music resource centre was initially created as a way of enabling electronic musicians and fans to categorise and order the existence of musicians, and their band names. At the time of its creation, there was no easily accessible way of finding out whether a band name already existed, given the unconventional way in which music was released. Conducting a search using their search facility would be a prudent step to catch those names in use, no matter how obscure they may be.

While it is difficult to assess how widespread is the uptake of voluntary registration within the music industry, it is nevertheless unlikely that such registration systems are reliable enough to replace trade mark registration. The problem is that registration is voluntary and has no official legal status. Therefore some band names will inevitably not be registered so that the apparent availability of a name following a check of the register will not necessarily clear that name.Only trade mark registration, which is rare for start up bands, can provide exclusive rights over a band’s name.

Assuming that most bands will lack the resources to invest in a trade mark registration, they should ideally have a trade mark clearance search. Alternatively, if there is no budget to cover even the cost of a trade mark clearance search, then there is a lot a band could do for itself to try to establish whether any conflicts exist before settling on its name. Google searching will reveal many active uses of the name, but it would by no means provide a comprehensive search. A quick and free search of the UK Trade Mark Registry’s website should be done as a matter of course, as this will alert the band whether their chosen name (or a similar one) has already been registered as a trade mark or if an application to register it has been made.Any professional who gets involved with a band once it has already begun to use a name should do this sort of basic research to determine if the name is available, and before resorting to a voluntary registration scheme like