Is It Ever OK To Steal Another Band's Name?
Are you a musician? Is your group having issues? Ask Fan Landers! Critic Jessica Hopper has played in and managed bands, toured internationally, booked shows, produced records, worked as a publicist, and is the author of The Girls' Guide to Rocking, a how-to for teen ladies. She is here to help you stop doing it wrong. Send your problems to her -- confidentiality is assured, unless you want to use your drama as a ticket to Internet microfame.
Considering the overused tropes of band nomenclature, it is only natural that someone somewhere named a band something that is perfect, then broke up. Maybe the band never played a show, or maybe the band put out a terrible obscure record. What is the rule on that, how long before that name is open again? When is a name fair game?
I posed your question to the Fan Landers resident legal expert, Matthew Hale Clark, who is a musician/attorney here in Chicago, and, as luck would have it, my husband. "In this day and age of the internet, the answer is that it's probably not fair game. To oversimplify the trademark issue, the question is whether there could be a likelihood of confusion in the relevant marketplace. Here, regardless of the genre, scene or location, you are playing music and so is this other band. Them being broken up doesn't matter to a judge, but whether or not they did anything under that name does--if they really never played a show, put out a record or even had a MySpace page--essentially, never entered the market--then it might be fair game."
Likelihood of confusion doesn't just mean exact same name it means close and similar names--the emphasis is on confusion. Sadly, all the antler, crystal, rainbow, moon and sun bands going right now don't seem to be bothered by such things.
Also, I have worked with and known bands who chanced it with a name and it came back to bite them in the ass. Is a band name so perfect and precious that you are willing to cede years of groundwork when all the sudden this other band rises from the dead and wants a piece of your action? Do you want to have your albums shelved in two different sections at the record store? Do you want to have to add a clunky "Jr." or "Inc." or "NYC" to the end of your name two albums in? If so, by all means, go right ahead.
Our final suggestion is that you should name your band "Ronald Reggae." Unless you are a jam band, in which case, we think you should call yourselves "Chastity's Groove."