band name etiquette
March 4, 2005 7:32 AM   Subscribe

What is the etiquette involved in using a band name that is similar to one already in existence.

Sorry, I'm attempting to keep this vague. My husband's fairly new band has been working under a name for a bit. It's a refrence from a commonish early 80s horror movie, in the format "number word-word". They recently found out that another band is using a similar name (theirs is in the format "word number") and has been for about six months longer than they have.

The other band is in another country, and doesn't seem to leave their city for shows. Would that make a difference? They're all thinking it's different enough to be OK, and since both are local bands not likely to ever run in the same circles or be confused with one another. I'm a bit more iffy on the legality of it.
posted by Kellydamnit to Media & Arts (26 answers total)
They shouldn't have anything to worry about as long as the following don't happen:

1) One of the members of the other, similar named band goes to law school, or marries a lawyer.
2) The other band signs a record contract.
3) The other band copyrights the name.

But the name isn't exactly the same, so I can't imagine there would be any problem anyway. If your husbands band decided to call themselves Metallica, there might be some issues.
posted by nitsuj at 7:37 AM on March 4, 2005

My cousin was in a band called "skin" for a while, and they discovered on tour that there were at least a couple other bands out there with the exact same name. Likewise, I'm pretty sure there are two different bands that go by the name "Blood Group" (one kinda punk, one sparse/female vocalist).

So I dunno what the legality is exactly, but it definitely happens.
posted by mdn at 7:41 AM on March 4, 2005

2002 newsletter article touches on this very topic, in reference to Nirvana's legal troubles.
posted by goatdog at 7:48 AM on March 4, 2005

I'm pretty sure it's all legal unless someone is filing cease and desist notices. This kind of thing happens all the time.

True story: Many years ago, when I was just out of college and still listened to lots of noisy, unlistenable music, I was on a business trip in an urban, southern town. I had to be there for a week. In the evenings I would go out and do stuff around town. I looked up the club listings in the local weekly and discovered that [name of band withheld] was playing at one of the local clubs. [name of band withheld] was a noisy indie post-punk band that I was fond of at the time. I got all dressed up, er, down, for the show, hopped in my rental car, drove across town, and discovered: a square dance club. A bunch of old people dressed up in cowboy duds. When I peeked in at the back of the club (which, incidentally, was a sort of genteel roadhouse), sure enough, there was a square dance band, with a big banner reading [name of band withheld].

I got back in the car to drive back to the hotel. Even weirder, when I got in the car, [name of band withheld] was playing on the college station. No shit.
posted by casu marzu at 7:54 AM on March 4, 2005

Remember Bush? Gavin Rossdale, etc? There was already a Bush in Canada, so they had to call themselves Bush X, just in Canada.

Death From Above 1979 added the 1979 part because it was the legal minumum that would differentiate them from Death From Above (DFA) Records, who asked them to change their name.

So, unless it's the exact same name, it doesn't matter, and even if it did, your husband can always tack on a couple extra numbers, and he's golden.
posted by SoftRain at 7:57 AM on March 4, 2005

A number of years ago, a local band called Sleeper got paid a lot of money to change their name (to Serpico) by the British band with the same name (they had a hit called "Inbetweener").
posted by skwm at 8:06 AM on March 4, 2005

Also see Blink 182 (#?) and The Mission U.K.
posted by signal at 8:09 AM on March 4, 2005

There are plenty of situations where a band has added a few letters onto their existing name to meet legal requirements (Guster was originally Gus, several British bands that added "UK" onto their name here in the States), but I think what the poster is asking about is more etiquette than legal requirement. If we are talking about a somewhat close-knit music community, even having a similar name might seen as a pretty big faux pas. But where this is two local bands in two different countries, I don't think you have an issue, as long as the names are slightly different.

What I'm really posting for, though, is WHAT'S THE REFERENCE! You can't tease us like that. Now I'm going to be good for nothing all day as I try to think of "number word-word" references from every horror movie since Nosferatu. It's not "Transylvania 6-5000" is it? Cause that would be awesome, no?
posted by Rock Steady at 8:13 AM on March 4, 2005

Also see the really stupid lawsuit that is causing Dan Snaith's band Manitoba to change their name to Caribou.
posted by matildaben at 8:15 AM on March 4, 2005

Dinosaur meet Dinosaur. Let's call one of them Dinosaur, Jr. from now on. Yeah, it happens. I was in a band named after what we (young teens) at the time thought was an obscure monty python's flying circus reference, turns out there was a band in Hawaii thinking the same thing, but since neither band got signed to a record company with legal eagles looking for nice mice, nothing ever happened. IANAL, but I want to say your Husband's band will be alright (tho Handsome Dick Manitoba's actions against Manitoba does make me understand your caution). I say proceed with the name and good luck!
posted by safetyfork at 8:15 AM on March 4, 2005

Jinx, matildaben, you owe me a coke.
posted by safetyfork at 8:16 AM on March 4, 2005

No, safetyfork, you owe me a mix CD!
posted by matildaben at 8:17 AM on March 4, 2005

Nitsuj nailed the answer. Since they are different names (even slightly) there is no problem legally. I once played in a band which was a One Word Common Noun. A band from another country adopted the same One Word Common Noun after we apparently did. We were both putting out records, so I filed a copyright for our One Word Common Noun, to at least protect us in the States.

When the foreign One Word Common Noun released a record in the States they had to tack on some initials to differentiate themselves from us.

A copyright will help protect you if you have the same name (and later want to sell it to Sleeper UK), but if it is different (yet similar) getting a copyright is sort of moot.
posted by kongg at 8:20 AM on March 4, 2005

As long as the band in the other country's name doesn't feature the word "you" (or some variant) or the numeral "2." Things have gotten a bit ugly in the past.
posted by googly at 8:21 AM on March 4, 2005

um, that should be the word "you" (or some variant) and the numeral "2."
posted by googly at 8:23 AM on March 4, 2005

When I typed "copyright" above , I did mean "trademark".
posted by kongg at 8:23 AM on March 4, 2005

One Word, Common Noun would be an awesome band name however...
posted by longbaugh at 8:29 AM on March 4, 2005

3) The other band copyrights the name.

All together now:

And unlike copyrights, trademarks are easily checked on the US Patent and Trademark Office website.
posted by IshmaelGraves at 8:41 AM on March 4, 2005

Wow... all these answers! This is why the green rocks.

Rock Steady: OK, OK... I'll give a hint of the reference. It's from Return of the Living Dead. And it's a chemical. And the hyphen may or may not be necessary. And odds are I'll have their page linked in my profile in the next month or two, once I finish it.

As far as the community/scene/whatever, yeah, that was discussed. It's no small thing in the punk scene, and being branded as assholes so soon in the game would be a killer. But the basic opinion was that the other band is a good three hundred miles away, so it's not like they'll be running into each other on the street or playing shows together, or even meet any of the same people.

It does seem to be different enough to pass the test. I can't believe I forgot about all the bands that just added UK to their names.

IshmaelGraves: thanks for the link- no one's trademarked it!

(now I'm wondering if I should suggest One Word Common Noun as a new name, though...)
posted by Kellydamnit at 9:48 AM on March 4, 2005

My band James Leroy has been running into the singer/songwriter of the same name James Leroy who was a one-hit-wonder in the late 70's. There was a write up in the paper about us, and afterwards someone wrote a letter to the editor about how "unoriginal" we were.

We did an interview for a college radio station, and they brought this up, and we said that it was different because we were James Leroy, but the other guy was James Leroy.
posted by Quartermass at 9:57 AM on March 4, 2005

In the early 90s I was in a band unfortunately named Area 51, and had a record label called Launch!. We slowly discovered there were probably hundreds of Area 51s out there, and then that stupid Launch Magazine/CD whatever it was/is thing came out. I don't even fuck around with any even remotely known references/phrases anymore, especially after hearing about Manitoba (fuck Handsome Dick!).

Why would you even want a band name that's similar to another one?

Band names are easy - just grab a newspaper, dictionary, or good book and start randomly flipping pages and pointing at words. Jam on the good ones. Give it a good 15-20 minutes and I guarantee you'll be on to something original that you can live with.
Then get back to the music!
posted by hellbient at 10:26 AM on March 4, 2005

IshmaelGraves got it right on with the "trademark, not copyright" comment, but it's a little bit more complicated than that. You can have "common law" trademark rights without formally registering your trademark. So a clear search on the Patent and Trademark Office's website is not necessarily an all-clear to use a mark. Theoretically, there could be a band the next town over that uses the same name, and the earliest user would have dibs in that area.

Without registration, the protection is generally limited to the geographic area where the mark is being used. Read this little summary on common law marks if you are interested.

Like everyone else has said, you should have no problem unless (a) somebody is feeling litigious, or (b) one of the two bands hits it big (like, really big).

Disclaimer: IAAL, but not yours.
posted by AgentRocket at 11:00 AM on March 4, 2005

Kellydamnit, their signature tune could be a cover of Nirvana's "Verse Chorus Verse"!

mdn, I know the singer of this Blood Group. It was truly bizarre to hear you name check them! She's really cool, and her sister plays Teri Hatcher's daughter on "Desperate Housewives!" How's that for a small world?
posted by kimota at 11:09 AM on March 4, 2005

Reminds me of that great line from David St. Hubbins of Spinal Tap ". . . so we became The Originals but we had to change our name actually - there was another group in the East End called The Originals and we had to rename ourselves - The New Originals"
posted by Neiltupper at 12:44 PM on March 4, 2005

mdn, I know the singer of this Blood Group.

heh, yeah, that's the one I have tracks from. I found the other one when I was looking for more info online last year, and kept coming across references to loud sweaty manly hardcore, and thinking, hmm, that doesn't sound like the band I'm thinking of...

It looks like they're getting bigger though, because doing a search now, there's a lot of info on them and I only found one link about the other guys.

Anyway, cool that you know them... where are they based out of? well - tell her random people online like her stuff :)

(email's in my profile if you like-)
posted by mdn at 1:15 PM on March 4, 2005

AgentRocket writes " Without registration, the protection is generally limited to the geographic area where the mark is being used."

Bingo. I am in a band that already went thru this in LA (we named ourseleves after a semi-obscure play that became a semi-obscure movie) and lo and behold there was another band with that name in the same town. First band to lay something down under that name (record something) has the legal standing, and they had beat us to it by about 6 months. We got a cease and desist order, and now we have a different name. But if the band isn't in the same town and isn't famous, there are no worries.
posted by rooftop secrets at 3:02 AM on March 5, 2005

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