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How to trademark a band nameWhat’s your band name? Are you sure it’s YOUR band name?

What I mean is, are you sure you own the rights to use that band or artist name when you create music and conduct business? In short, is your band name protected as a trademark or service mark?

Why your band name should be protected by a trademark

1. Avoid duplicate band names

You don’t want to tour and record for years under one band name, only to find out that there’s another band working under the same name in another part of the country (or world).

In that event, one of you is either going to have to change your name entirely or tack on a little extra identifier, “Charlatans UK,” “The All New…”

That’d suck because you’ll have to exert a lot of extra effort to regain the recognition you once had with the old band name. Your band name is your brand name — and if you have to change it, it’s going to cost you money too: repressing discs or vinyl with the new band name, distribution fees associated with replacing your music in stores, etc.

2. Protect your domain name and social profiles

Whichever band wins the trademark dispute is going to have the right to claim or shut down the other band’s web address and social media URLs, handles, etc. You’ve worked too hard building your online presence to have some jokers five states over kill your music career momentum just because they filed the paperwork first.

How to see if someone else is already using the band name you’d like to trademark

Well, Google is always a great place to start. Do any other band names come up in a search? If not, phew! But it doesn’t mean you’re free and clear yet.

Next you’ll want to use the search on the USPTO (United States Patent and Trademark Office) website to look for registered trademarks or cases where a trademark application is pending: http://www.uspto.gov/

Be sure to search for similar names and common misspellings too. If you’re still not seeing any competition for your band name, it’s time to file the paperwork to register your trademark.

Having gone through this incredibly confusing and lengthy process myself, I STRONGLY recommend hiring a lawyer to help you file everything correctly the first time around (which I did not, and ended up regretting it).

If you don’t have the budget to hire a laywer, check out “Protecting Band and Artist Stage Names” by Michael I. Santucci (an entertainment attorney who focuses on copyright, patent, and trademark law) for advice on how to register your trademark yourself.

Do you have any trademark horror stories, either in terms of filing the application or with an actual trademark dispute? Let us know all about it in the comments section below.

How to spread the word 
about your music: 
online marketing tips to help you connect with fans and sell more music.

[Trademark image from Shutterstock.]

In this article

Join the Conversation

  • Can I register my band name if it has a registered trademark like Kleenex in it?

    • Ha. That would make things difficult, huh? Does your band name actually have “Kleenex” in it? I know you can’t have a brand name in the title of a book without getting the permission of the brand, so I’d imagine it’s the same for band names. I wonder if in some cases, though, you could approach from an angle similar to Fair Use. I’d say you should ask an attorney to be sure.

      @ChrisRobley

    • Rick Shaw

      Trademark is established by use in commerce. So Kleenex is already well established and no one else could register that trademark. Same thing with bands. Maybe your band registered your trademark first but the other band (with the same name) has already established their trademark by use in commerce although unregistered. Likely the other band with a more established commercial use would prevail.

    • That’s not a good idea. There was a Swiss female post-punk band active from 1978 to 1983, initially known as Kleenex. They had to change their name in 1979 because Kimberly-Clark threatened legal action. Then the band became known as LiLiPUT.

      There was other such cases as this, such as the band “The Red Crayola” which had to change their name, and became Red Krayola. If a name is trademarked, you cant use it.

      • Do you know what type of music “The Red Crayola” played?

        • Wikipedia says: “Red Krayola was a psychedelic, experimental rock band from Houston, Texas, formed by art students at the University of St. Thomas in 1966.”

          • Thanks for looking that up. I guess I was just being lazy 🙂

            Do you think if Crayola would have had a problem if “The Red Crayola” happened to be children’s music?

        • Wikipedia says: “Red Krayola was a psychedelic, experimental rock band from Houston, Texas, formed by art students at the University of St. Thomas in 1966.”

    • Refer to Green Jello/Green Jelly of the 90’s. The use of the trademarked Jello did not fly with Kraft and Green Jello (listen to Little Pig) had to become Green Jelly. So yes, the point of a trademark is to protect the branding in every way possible including across sectors.

    • Refer to Green Jello/Green Jelly of the 90’s. The use of the trademarked Jello did not fly with Kraft and Green Jello (listen to Little Pig) had to become Green Jelly. So yes, the point of a trademark is to protect the branding in every way possible including across sectors.

      • Ah… how could I forget about Them?! I’d bet the type of music the band plays has a significant factor in deciding what will work.

  • GKays

    I think the better discussion here would be what to do after the trademark. I’ve had my band name registered and paid countless hundreds of dollars to lawyers and the USPTO. I can’t tell you how many cease and desist letters I’ve mailed to bands only to start flame wars online and they still won’t change their name. So unless I want to waste thousands of more dollars, how do I enforce my mark?

    • If your letters weren’t enough to deter them, then unfortunately your next step is to “waste thousands of more dollars” and hire a lawyer to write those letters in more frightening, legal tones — and then pursue legal action if they don’t stop using your trademark.

      @ChrisRobley

  • Are “covered” songs allowed on YouTube if they state in the description that the performer does NOT own the song? And when does a song become “public domain” so that licensing issues are not required?

    • Generally, songs written before 1923 are public domain. Those written afterwards, it gets more complicated, but they’re usually still under copyright protection.

      @ChrisRobley

    • As for YouTube, things are VERY gray. Some publishers/songwriters are ok with covers of their songs up there. Others are NOT ok with it and have them removed.

      @ChrisRobley

  • 100 Floata

    “Kleenex” would be a great name for an emo band. LOL

    • Gabe Pancho

      LMAO!!!!!!!!

  • lolamala

    Does this work for non-US bands? My band’s in Ireland, so please elaborate on that!

  • Craig Whitehouse

    Would this be the same thing in the UK? Or is there a UK equivalent?

  • Elias Weber

    I personally find It strange that Band names can be trademarked. This is fine for Band Logos. But why the name. We are soon going to run out of words in the English dictionary if every band gets their name trademarked. Bands of the future will need a to use a string of several words or a name which resembles a Bar code number or complicated Login Password.

    I know these are the rules which for some reason have been put in to place but I think we are at a point where band names should be treated like human names. There are many people called John Smith. Somehow every John Smith manages to possess a unique Passport despite sharing the same name. No government deportment or individual person struggles to tell the John Smiths apart, they coexist just fine. Why cant the same be done with band names.

    Which brings me to the next question what if you name your band after yourself. John Smith for instance. Surely you have the right to name your band after you, but what if more than one John Smith happens to name their band after themselves?

    I’m sure there is a John who happens to be a mechanic at Johns garage. I Went and did a Google search for (John’s Garage) It turns out there are more of them than I care to count. Surely they all have a unique Logo but the name is the same.

    If I had a band name trademarked I wouldn’t dream of preventing another band from using the same name as long as they use their own logo and do their own thing. I would only trademark my name to prevent others from taking it away from me not to prevent others from using the same name I have.

    • Marcus Pierce

      I’m sure KISS, Poison, Shoes, The Eagles, The Beatles, ad nauseum would disagree with you. And if we can create original music using a finite source of tones, what makes you think we can’t continue to come up unique band names utilizing a finite source of words?

      If you are a regional band or just making a living in your home town as John Smith’s Garage, more than likely no one is going to bother you. But if a band out of, oh let’s say Minnesota, starts to gain notoriety, trademarks the name and discovers a little podunk band in Albuquerque playing under the name John Smith’s Garage, then you are probably going to get a cease and desist letter and have to change your band’s name to John Smith’s Airplane Garage or something that separates your band from the trademarked John Smith’s Garage.

      Bands struggle over naming their entities. Why should they not be able to protect their entities’ name?

    • Bond James

      You need to show proof of use when being challenged or if you are trying
      to ordering a cease and desist. This plus cost Helps keep aholes from
      trademarking vast amounts of names in hopes of selling the rights or
      suing.

      • Marcus Pierce

        True. You file with the Secretary of State in your state and must provide proof that you are making money as this entity. Doesn’t matter how much you make…if you are doing business under this name you are entitled to trademark said name for you business purposes.

  • Ventureshadow

    Ah, I know an answer. Kleenex is a registered trademark for tissues, and this applies to other personal care products. However, it doesn’t apply to things unrelated to these. I am not a lawyer, and this is not a definitive statement, it is my personal opinion, but I am mentioning it because I think it is right.

    • Marcus Pierce

      You would be correct if someone wanted to name their band tissue, but Kleenex is protected. You could even call a band Puffs as that word is part of the English lexicon, but Kleenex is a word derived by a company for the sole purpose of identifying that company and its products. Your thinking is both correct and incorrect. I’m not a lawyer either, but I did fail copyright law a couple of times. 🙂

    • rentgould

      When a brand name becomes the name for a product it is no longer the original companies right of brand. So I’m told.

  • John Bushell

    I registered trademark my name in the late ’80s. In the mid ’90s I neglected to reapply for trademark. Have used the name thru all the years. Another guy applied for the trademark of the exact same name and got it. What takes precedent in the court of law. He who proves first use of name or he who holds trademark? Thanks

  • Annetta Nesler

    Do you follow the same steps if you want to trademark an indie record label?

  • ExquisiteNoise

    On a similar note, is this the same process you would use to register a tee shirt slogan? One of the bands on our label asked us about this recently.

      • ExquisiteNoise

        Thanks for taking the time to look into this, Chris. This series you post continues to be a huge help for us!

        • Sure thing. And glad to hear it. Thanks for reading!

          @ChrisRobley

          • Shawn Hamlin

            Mr. Robley, thank you for this helpful information. I’ve played in dozens of different bands since I was a teenager back in the late eighties. Before the widespread availability of the internet, it was next to impossible to know (or even research) if your band’s name was already taken. Especially for a group of far less than wealthy starving artists. However, back then, it was a non-issue unless your group was pulling down some very serious gig money. I suspect the same may hold true today. My first “real” gigging band played for nearly two years before the issue was even raised. By that time we had gained a good amount of notoriety and popularity and got picked up by the PM manager who also took care of the John Boy and Billy Show. It wasn’t until we signed on with him that the trademark became necessary. What I’m saying is, don’t waste a lot of time and money stressing out over a trademark until you have a good reason. The sad truth is the majority of bands never make it to the point where it becomes an issue. Today I own one third of the rights to a band that did well but not well enough. I still keep plugging away at the goal though, as should we all.

  • Freddy

    Does Bandname.com have any relevance to this topic? Is there any significance in registering with them?

    • I’m actually not sure. I mean, it seems like a registry of band names would be good for folks who are deciding upon a new band name, but Google seems just as likely to return results (and without a fee).

      @ChrisRobley

  • Chet Cline

    To avoid wasting time and money, hire an IP attorney to handle trademarking. They know how to handle the bureaucrats in Washington DC. Don’t DIY this.

  • Genkai

    “some jokers five states over” ahahaha

  • Great article! Im in the process now of getting a domain name and trademarking my Artist name. This was needed info.

  • Great article! Im in the process now of getting a domain name and trademarking my Artist name. This was needed info.

  • Great article! Im in the process now of getting a domain name and trademarking my Artist name. This was needed info.

  • ApathyNihilism

    So are only same band names the concern? Or even similar band names? Let’s say one uses the noun form of a word, and the other the verb form of the word, both having single-word band names. Is there a conflict?

  • Do you have a specific example?

    @ChrisRobley

    • Justin Hundley

      Okay, so one band is
      Advent Ascent
      The other is
      Advent/Ascended

      Would that be a conflict? Neither have filed trademark

      • I can’t say, from a legally standpoint. BUT… both those names seem similar enough that it’d create confusion among music listeners. Which I can imagine is grounds for a trademark dispute.

        @ChrisRobley

  • Elizabeth

    Is it possible to at all copyright/trademark/register your band name for free? -P.S. I’m from the UK 😀

  • I’m not sure how it works in the UK exactly, but I imagine it’s similar to the US where you “technically” own your copyright/trademark once it’s been created (meaning that copyright is free). But DOCUMENTING (or registering) that copyright/trademark is the important part that gives you far more solid legal grounds to stand on if those rights are ever infringed upon. In the US, that costs money. If you find a free solution in the UK, please let me know!

    @ChrisRobley

  • Per Gunnar Merakerli

    Hi. I plan to promote my “band” “metaclass” but could I instead use my surename : ” Merakerli” or is that strange and hard to pronounce?I am not englishspoken , htats why I ask 🙂

    • Well, I would go with “Metaclass” over “Merakerli” for that exact reason. Metaclass is more memorable. But I bet if you were to say “my band is called Merakerli,” most people would be like, “oh, hmmm… how do you spell that?”

      @ChrisRobley

  • Dork Boy

    To avoid a duplicate name in the first place, try using http://www.bandnamechecker.com – it searches Spotify, iTunes and Echonest and has some good suggestions.

  • CorkyP

    I’m in a band called Rhythm Slingerz, perfectly deliberate use of Z not S so as to be different. We started gigging under that name in February 2014, registering our fb page in January 2014. In August 2014 a band 20 miles away changed their name to the Rhythm Slingers (that’s when they announced on their fb page they were changing their name so it would be ‘more memorable’)….We play R&B and Blues, they’re a rock & roll band. I have approached them about it, and basically got short shrift and a not very polite ‘get lost’, claiming they must have had the name first as we had to use a Z not an S in our name. It’s obvious we were the first to be called that, but without an expensive legal battle (which we ain’t going to even consider) we’ve just had to make people (and venues) aware of the difference so they don’t get us mixed up.

  • That sucks! Especially since y’all are both working in the same markets. Hopefully you can work something out.

    @ChrisRobley

  • afram

    we found out there’s a band called Luna so we want to change the a to v (Lunv) but the pronunciation wont change, can this work? is this ok?

  • Johnna Davis

    The title of this article is “How” to trademark your band or artist name. It should be “Why!” Other than touting someone’s book, there’s nothing here that gives anyone information on “how” to go about trademarking their band’s name!

  • I’m not sure. Sounds like you should consult an attorney on that one before committing.

    @ChrisRobley

  • Joshua Brown

    What about naming your Band after a Book

  • It’s possible to register a service mark for a proper name, but you have to prove “secondary meaning,” or that the name is so recognizable and distinctive that when someone hears it, they automatically think of YOU (and not anyone else with that name). Check out this article for a good summary: http://www.ipwatchdog.com/2011/02/11/trademark-of-sarah-palin/id=15274/

    @ChrisRobley