Help with a band name
November 4, 2009 12:30 PM   Subscribe

I want to start an Irish band called the Peter O'Tooles. Might this be a problem?

Can Peter O'Toole stop me, since we're just taking his glorious name?
posted by Astro Zombie to Media & Arts (23 answers total)
Wouldn't it be considered homage, so no infringement to him personally? There's precedent for this, so I'm going to say no, Peter O'Toole can't stop you.
posted by elmer benson at 12:34 PM on November 4, 2009

Just a thought, but you could spell the name in a 'disguised' fashion e.g. The Peetero Tools then it seems unlikely that he could do anything about it.
posted by Not Supplied at 12:36 PM on November 4, 2009

charles bronson
yaphet kotto

you're okay
posted by mr. remy at 12:36 PM on November 4, 2009

the Deathray Davies don't have any problems. Ray knows and thinks it's hilarious. you could luck out.
posted by radiosilents at 12:38 PM on November 4, 2009

JFA ("Jody Foster's Army") didn't have to change their name, as far as I know.

On the other hand, "Mookie Blaylock" did. To Pearl Jam.

So, y'know, ask a lawyer.
posted by dersins at 12:38 PM on November 4, 2009 [2 favorites]

IANAL, but I think there is certainly precedent. The Mr. T Experience, Kathleen Turner Overdrive.
posted by JeffK at 12:40 PM on November 4, 2009

I am not a lawyer, but I do know from a friend that on films the character's full name often changes before production, because they do a check to see how many people have that name in the area where the plot takes place and how likely they are to sue and can they get them to sign a document saying they will not. This is why most characters in average movies have average names. If there's 500 John Smith's, its a lot harder to prove the production may be slandering you personally or using your likeness than if there is only one Michael Shane McGillicuddy or whatever.

On the other hand, unless you become wildly famous Peter O'Toole will probably never know, and he certainly isn't the only Peter O'Toole in Ireland, just the most famous. Also, if you write no songs about him, it's hard to prove you are slandering him, but any offensive lyrics might be messing with his ability to make money, which might land you in court, though not likely, he being a great actor and you being an unknown band.
posted by itsonreserve at 12:41 PM on November 4, 2009

You could always ask the Friends of Dean Martinez.
posted by chesty_a_arthur at 12:43 PM on November 4, 2009 [1 favorite]

Sometimes bands do have to change their names - whether this is because they were forced to, or simply because the threat of expensive lawsuits made it the better option, I can't say. Someone mentioned "Friends Of Dead Martinez," who used to be "Friends Of Dean Martin." Prefab Sprout had to change the name of their album "Steve McQueen." Peter O'Toole may not be able to stop you, but if he wanted to, he could cost you a lot of money.
posted by Dee Xtrovert at 1:04 PM on November 4, 2009

Johnny Depp was reportedly 'flattered' by the existence of hardcore band Gay for Johnny Depp.

Also, you could ask the members of folk-rock band Peter O Toole if they're in receipt of any threatening letters.
posted by permafrost at 1:06 PM on November 4, 2009 [1 favorite]

Off the top of my head, there was at least one case which suggests that using a famous name for this kind of purpose can raise (1) false endorsement and (2) right of publicity issues under Lanham Act Sec. 43(a) and state common law right of publicity - Parks v. LaFace Records, 329 F.3d 437 (6th Cir. 2003), available here. I'd have to re-read the case to get the details down, but broadly speaking, celebrities can maintain a cause of action under product confusion provisions of Lanham Act.

Here, Peter O'Toole would have to prove that use of the name is likely to confuse consumers as to connection between him and your goods / services. It'd be a pretty difficult argument to make, in my opinion, but (1) it's viable and non-frivolous, which means that (2) it would take a lot of $ to defend against. The right of publicity argument under state law tracks closely the above analysis, but does not require any evidence that consumers are likely to be misled - i.e., all that is necessary is that plaintiff establishes that he has a commercial interest in his name / identity, and that defendant commercially exploited that name / identity. This is an easier claim to make. Again, I have no idea whether artists typically care enough to aggressively police stuff like this, but just wanted to flag an adverse possibility.

Obviously, this not legal advice, etc., etc.
posted by Pontius Pilate at 1:36 PM on November 4, 2009 [1 favorite]

Wouldn't it be considered homage, so no infringement to him personally?

"Homage" is not a legal term. There's Fair Use, there's infringement and there's "they haven't sued you yet."

There's no hard and fast answer, because it really depends on the specific usage and O'Toole's reaction to it. You could try really hard to be neutral about it and still get a threatening letter.

It's all in the presentation ... Are you really trying to use the name as leverage, trading on the actor's name recognition in the minds of potential customers? Or not? Is the owner named Peter O'Toole? Did the owner have a relative or a friend with this name? Will you be hanging up Lawrence of Arabia posters and going "Look, look, everyone, isn't the name of this bar funny, because it's just like the guy that starred in that movie?"

This all has to be factored into the equation. And then who know's how O'Toole and his business managers would actually react...?
posted by Cool Papa Bell at 1:36 PM on November 4, 2009 [1 favorite]

Abe Vigoda hasn't been sued yet (as far as I know).
posted by Dr-Baa at 1:49 PM on November 4, 2009

Response by poster: It's going to be a band that plays naughty Irish songs, so the name Peter O'Toole just sort of fits with the theme.
posted by Astro Zombie at 1:52 PM on November 4, 2009

Why not write him and ask? If he objects you have to think of a new name, but if he doesn't you'll never have to worry about getting sued.
posted by InfidelZombie at 2:15 PM on November 4, 2009

Maybe you could go with The Plenty O'Tooles instead.
posted by box at 2:18 PM on November 4, 2009

As far as I know, the Mr. T Experience never had a problem.

I think part of it depends on how famous you plan on getting. The other part is if the person you named the band after has a sense of humor or not.

Then there's the part where getting sued is always a great way to bring attention to your band, so why not go for it? I think the odds of you having to actually pay damages are pretty remote -- worst case scenario is you have to come up with a new band name, and you have a funny story to tell.
posted by spilon at 2:21 PM on November 4, 2009

It's going to be a band that plays naughty Irish songs, so the name Peter O'Toole just sort of fits with the theme.

The drop the final "e":

The Peter O'Tools.
posted by dersins at 2:31 PM on November 4, 2009 [1 favorite]

band, bar, what's the difference?

sorry, but what I said is still valid, actually...
posted by Cool Papa Bell at 2:34 PM on November 4, 2009

Peter O'Toole is a well-worn dick joke. Groucho wrote a letter to Dick Cavett with a postscript that read, "P.S. Did you ever notice that Peter O'Toole has a double-phallic name?"

So it's not like you're treading on new ground here. I have no hard data here, but it's doubtful Mr. O'Toole is going to be upset by your band name what with Groucho's memoirs floating around.
posted by carsonb at 6:20 PM on November 4, 2009

Groucho Marx. As if it needed clarifying.
posted by carsonb at 6:20 PM on November 4, 2009

Eve's Plum never had a problem.

You should be good as long as Peter O'Toole isn't a Dick.
posted by You Should See the Other Guy at 9:02 PM on November 4, 2009

The Tony Danza Tapdance Extravaganza
posted by querty at 10:07 PM on November 4, 2009

« Older I've seen a million faces   |   Power-vented water heaters -- what say you? Newer »
This thread is closed to new comments.