TRADEMARKS IN THE MUSIC SECTOR: REGISTERING YOUR ARTIST’S NAME OR BAND NAME
Is it necessary to register your artist’s name or band name as a trademark? And what about the names of your albums or the titles of your songs? You’ll find the answer in the following article.
The trademark “King of Pop” and VRT
Recently, the Flemish public broadcaster VRT received a formal notice from the heirs of Michael Jackson, order them to change the name of their music quiz “King of Pop”. “King of Pop” is a registered trademark of Triumph International (the company that manages Michael Jackson’s merchandising). I discussed the legal aspects of this trademark dispute in a radio interview with VRT. You can read and listen to the full interview here.
Check the public trademark registers
Before starting a new project, it is always a good idea to consult the public trademark registers and check whether the name or logo you want to use hasn’t already been registered as a trademark. These trademark registers are freely accessible, and a brief examination of registered trademarks can avoid future claims.
For Benelux trademarks, you can check the registered trademarks via the website of the Benelux Office for Intellectual Property (BBIE or BOIP). European Union trademarks can be checked via the website of the European Union Intellectual Property Office (EUIPO).
If a trademark has already been registered for the specific goods or services you want to offer, it is best to choose a different name or logo. When in doubt, it is best to seek specialised advice.
Trademark registration for artists?
As an artist or musician, should you register your artist or band name as a trademark? And what about titles of albums or songs?
Artist name and music band name as a trademark
I personally believe that it is advisable to register your artist or band name as a trademark. If you decide to do so, it is important that the owner and representative of the trademark is someone you can trust for the long term. If the owner or representative of the trademark is your manager and the relationship goes wrong, you might regret it. If the trademark is registered in the name of all band members together, a discussion may arise if someone wants to leave the band. But if the trademark is registered in the name of only one member of the band, the problems are possibly even bigger.
There is no magical solution here, but my advice is to think carefully about how you work together as musicians and take your specific situation into account. This is important for the registration of your trademarks, but also for your broader collaboration. A short and clear contract can avoid later discussions in connection with for instance copyright on songs, the further exploitation of songs, the use of certain names (artist names, band names, etc.).
Album names, song names and lyrics as a trademark
Some artists also register the names of their albums and songs as trademarks. However, this is rather exceptional. Taylor Swift is known for doing this. For example, Taylor Swift has had song titles (“Shake it off”) and parts of lyrics (“this sick beat”) registered as trademarks in the US for classes and subclasses such as t-shirts, photos, “art prints”, posters, etc.
Of course, not every album title, song title or lyric can be registered as a trademark. They are often too descriptive or generic and therefore do not qualify for trademark protection anyway. Moreover, it is pointless to register trademarks if you have no intention to exploit them. Finally, song lyrics are most probably already protected by copyright.
What is the purpose of your music trademark?
The first question you should ask yourself is what do you exactly want to do with your artist’s name or band name? What use by others would you find problematic?
Some artists or musicians opt for minimal trademark protection, which only relates to the music itself. They register the music mark for classes or sub-classes that specifically relate to music, recordings, performances or gigs.
Other bands opt for a broader trademark registration. The intention is to cash in on the trademark commercially via merchandising. For such trademarks, not only classes are (sub)selected that specifically relate to music, but also (sub)classes such as clothing, prints, gadgets, beauty, cosmetics, perfumes, jewellery, handbags, computer games, toys, sports articles, etc.
Domain names and accounts on social media
It is a good idea to also register your names on social media (as pages, accounts, profiles, etc.) and possibly as a domain name for your website. It happens all too often that a band or artist forgets to check beforehand which social media channels or domain names are still available, or that a third party later registers domain names or social media channels and only wants to resell them for a lot of money. With a registered trademark, you are in a much stronger position. You can read more about domain name disputes in our previous blog post.
Feel free to contact us for advice on trademark registrations or discussions about the use of names in the music sector.
Author: Bart Van Besien