Shortage of Band Names Causing Trademark Disputes

Thankfully, “Rusty Shackleford and the Advantages of Coral” is probably still available, according to the band name generator.

However, millions of bands have come and gone, in the U.S. alone, over the last 50 years or so. Most of them have had pretty basic names, following a few basic naming conventions: “The [Noun]s,” “[Lead Singer’s Name] and the [Noun]s,” and, the relatively recent addition of “[Noun].”

Given that there are a finite number of words in the English language, and a finite number of given names and surnames, it follows that coming up with a distinctive name following those basic naming conventions will become increasingly difficult as time goes by. Thankfully, many bands have figured out that they can simply misspell a common word, and make it their band name, but even that has its limits. These days, coming up with a name that no other band has used is next to impossible, unless you plan on putting a few random words together to create some kind of nonsensical phrase to serve as your band’s name (which certainly works for some bands).

It shouldn’t come as much of a surprise, then, that some band names have given rise to trademark disputes. As a quick primer, trademark law exists to protect both businesses and consumers by giving producers of goods and services exclusive rights to use a certain name, word, phrase, or image to identify their products or services, preventing others from using the same identifier to identify their product or service. It protects consumers by helping to ensure that, when they buy a product based on a brand, they know they’re getting the genuine article. It also helps to protect producers by ensuring that their brands aren’t tarnished by inferior knock-offs.

It should be noted, however, that trademark protection only exists for identifiers that are actually being “used in commerce” – being used to identify products or services that are actually being sold.

With band names, this issue can be complicated by the fact that many bands don’t register their names with the Patent and Trademark Office unless they get signed by a major label employing lawyers to do this for them. Furthermore, many band names are often plays on words, lampooning or referencing something that is generally familiar to the public. For example, one band called itself “Jane Deere,” and actually attempted to register this name with the U.S. Patent and Trademark office. Unfortunately for them, they had to give up on their efforts after the John Deere Corporation objected. Another band called itself “Captain America,” but decided to change its name to avoid being sued by Marvel Comics. The list of examples can go on and on.

Trademark disputes can also occur between bands. For example, one band called “Discovery” had to change its name after another band with the same name threatened a lawsuit. Apparently, even former members of the same band can get tangled up in this: Ozzy Osbourne, former lead singer of Black Sabbath, was involved in a dispute last year with other members of the band over the rights to use the “Black Sabbath” name.

What does all of this mean to you if you’re thinking of forming a band? Well, it means that you have the very unenviable task of coming up with a name that’s (1) original and creative and (2) doesn’t infringe on the intellectual property rights of anyone else, whether they’re another band, or a large corporation.

More broadly, you should remember that, as a band, you’re selling something: your music. Obviously, your band name is intended to identify the particular music that you’re selling. Your band name, therefore, is most definitely a trademark, and all of the legal issues that come with that should be taken into account.

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