Who owns a band name?

So if I hit the wall in dealing with my bandmates, Stash, Puff, Wizzy and Patt, what’s to keep me from forming my own band and calling it the same name as we started with? If I don’t get them to sign over the band name by threatening to quit, who owns the name?

Unless there’s some document spelling this out, it’s lawsuit territory.

And it can get nasty (e.g., Pink Floyd – Roger Waters tried to keep the other members of the group from touring under the Pink Floyd name).

Reality Chuck is right. In the worst case scenario, some clause in your manager’s contract says HE owns the name. I’ve seen cases where the manager fired the whole band and hired all new musicians to work under the old name. All aspiring musicians would be well served if they took a few business courses.

a search in google turned up this page: http://law.freeadvice.com/intellectual_property/music_law/no_agreement.htm

In the absence of a contract specifying otherwise, a band’s name belongs jointly to its members. If one member of the band claimed the name belonged to him alone, the burden of proof would be his.

Bands are formed many different ways. A lot of boy bands were formed by managers, who own the name of the band. Some bands are self-formed by their members, others have a core of one or two musicians who originated the concept of the band and completed the band by soliciting other musicians.

Wow, thanks for that site. I had no idea that existed. I’ve bookmarked it.

You might also want to look up Fleetwood Mac’s celebrated battle with their former manager, Clifford Davis, over their name. Faced with the possibility of cancelling a tour (due to the departure of Bob Weston from the group), Davis claimed he owned the name “Fleetwood Mac” and formed a completely different band of unknowns and sent them on the road to complete the tour dates.

The legal battle dragged on for years before the name got officially and legally reassigned to Mick Fleetwood and John McVie.

Don’t quite remember the details, but it may have had something to do with Davis registering the name as a trademark or something. Can’t remember.

I’m sure you could find plenty of info on it though if you look it up in music law sources. I’m sure I’ve got it in a book at the office.

OK, I have to ask: Anyone get which band I’m supposedly part of in my example? I left plenty of clues, I thought.

Obviously you are talking about Guns N Roses. Axl says he owns the name, that he bought it from the other members during the “Use Your Illusion” tours. Slash said recently in an interview that he was forced to sign papers “one night” before Axl would go up on stage. The pressure of not letting the crown down made him sign.

Then, just a few days ago, Slash, Axl, and Duff were all plaintiffs against Geffen Records and their parent company, suing to block the release of the new Greatest Hits album. The plaintiffs said they had no control over song selection, art, or distribution.

The three plaintiffs did not appear together in court, however.

Slash does not have a crown, that I know of. I meant crowd, of course.

As others have said, theatrical names can get hairy. For example, when Dick Van Dyke made a movie about a comedian who closely resembled Stan Laurel, the producers decided to give Laurel a small stipend. Laurel was living in Santa Monica in a walkup apartment on a state old age pension at the time.

When they looked into the matter they discovered that the names “Stan Laurel,” “Oliver Hardy,” “Laurel and Hardy” and various other combinations were all owned, for all theatrical uses, by Hal Roach studios (or its successor).

My nephew had a little band that attracted some interest. An agent offered to sponsor a demo recording for them but he wanted them to perform under a different name than the one they had been using. I’m pretty sure that was because the agency owned the name he wanted them to use. And if the band was a big success and one of the members got uppity that member could be easily replaced, having no proprietory claim to the band name.

I’ve seen the Dick Van Dyke movie, The Comedian. Since the character isn’t called Stan Laurel, and is really a amalgam of the lives and careers of several silent comedians (especially Buster Keaton), why would the producers be looking into the proprietary rights to the names “Stan Laurel” or “Laurel and Hardy”?

Here’s something about band name ownership I don’t understand. A couple of months ago, on VH1’s Bands Reunited, they reunited Berlin. Now the lead singer Terry Nunn said that the band name was owned by keyboardist John Crawford who claimed he’d split it 50/50 with her, but never did, even after they got married. So she got upset and bought the name and wouldn’t share it with him.

Now, if he owned the name, how was she able to buy it out from under him?

I don’t know that they were “looking into” anything. However, in order to satisfy to their financial backers they might need to look into a way to pay Laurel. That would likely involve discovering that the name didn’t belong to him for entertainment uses.

The Comic (sorry, I got the title wrong) was released four years after Stan Laurel died in 1965.

Joel, I don’t really have an answer to your question, but Terri Nunn is the person who registered the band’s name Berlin as a servicemark in 1996, fourteen years after they first started recording.

This is what happened to the Chris Aaron Band (a local progressive-blues band that almost made it back in 1999-2000-produced a CD called Freedom 5 Miles). Their manager registered the name and when they had a falling out, IIRC the band fired the manager, the manager kept the name (which was based on 2 of the band member’s names). The band ended up changing their name to American Standard but have since seemed to have died out.

Possibly he registered it as a servicemark (or what have you) but got sloppy about renewals. Happens all teh time. It’s your responsibility to defend your trademark or servicemark. If it expires and you’re not paying attention, someone else can snag it.

If you have a good trademark lawyer, they’ll scour registries to keep your renewals up to date and to fend off other people who apply for confusingly similar names.

Eats Crayons, you’re right. Looking back further into the registrations at the U.S. Patent and Trademark Office, I find the original service mark for the band’s name “Berlin”. According to the registration, the name was first used in 1976, and first used commercially in 1980. Band member John Crawford filed the service mark in 1983, the service mark was registered in 1984, and it was cancelled — reason given as Section 8 (6 year)* — in 1991.

  • “If the registrant fails to file, before the end of the sixth year following registration, a Section 8 affidavit or declaration that sets forth goods and services in connection with which the mark is in use, the registration will be cancelled.”

I was looking at a Little River Band fan site a while back, and that band had/has a situation like this. Apparently the name, “Little River Band” is the property of the band as an entity. And also apparently, some members of the band were not aware of how that worked. The band, as an entity seems to still exist, and still performs. However, numerous band members have come and gone over the years, and now there are no longer any original members left.

So the two founding members decided to come out of retirement and start performing again, only to discover that they could not legally use the name they came up with in the first place. So they perform under the name “Not The Little River Band” :smiley: