What’s in a name? Everything! Most people recognize the power that a strong brand carries, but few take the time to consider what a brand really is. Although not completely accurate, many consider “brand” to be synonymous with with “mark,” which Black’s Law Dictionary (7th ed.) defines as “[a] symbol, impression, or feature on something, [usually] to identify it or distinguish it from something else.” True, a mark is used to identify goods and services, but at its core, a mark represents all of the goodwill associated with a particular company, product, or service. Unfortunately, a mark can also conjure up the negative vibes that one might associate with the mark’s owner. But let’s focus on the positives.
Most successful entrepreneurs recognize that their trademarks and/or service marks (together with their other intellectual property or “IP”) are among their most valuable assets. I encourage bands, individual artists, and writers -- particularly those who develop their own labels and/or music publishing companies -- to do the same. The building of a brand takes time and requires careful planning. Therefore, I always recommend consulting legal counsel who is versed in IP law well before the adoption and use of any new brand (and yes, this includes the adoption of a band or stage name, hence the title of this article), as trademark clearance and registration issues are rarely straightforward.
Often, a band will begin performing under a particular name without first taking steps to clear the mark. In most cases, the band will labor in relative obscurity for a number of years, flying under the radar of any other groups that have adopted the same, or a confusingly similar, name (unless the other band undertakes the advisable practice of conducting periodic vigilance searches to detect and prevent the unauthorized use of its name -- more on this topic in a later article). However, for those talented and fortunate few, opportunities can arise that quickly propel the band onto the regional, national, or even international stage. Even bands without any appreciable commercial success can place themselves on the world’s stage rather quickly by building an Internet presence.
In the next installment of this two-part article, I'll discuss some more advanced considerations regarding band trademarks and services marks.
L. Kevin Levine is the founder of L. Kevin Levine, PLLC (go figure), a boutique entertainment, copyright, trademark, and business law firm in Nashville, Tennessee. A lifelong musician who grew up in his family's music store, it was inevitable that Kevin would build his legal career in entertainment and business.