Written by: André Carty
In this article I will describe what a brand is, why it is relevant in music and at the end of this article; you must have a clear understanding of the basics of trademark law and how to register your own trademark.
Assuming that the music industry is a business, and like any other business, you can seek to register the trade name you are marketing in the industry, which, in turn, will protect you and your brand. , against those who seek to corrupt it. If you’re in the music industry, chances are you’ve seen the “®” symbol everywhere, indicating that the name/brand is a registered trademark. The trademark provides the owner with recourse if you or your trademark has been impersonated or counterfeited. You have the right to reclaim your name on any website, including social media, or at the very least have all replicas shut down.
The legal definition of a trade mark is set out in Section 1 of the Trade Marks Act 1994 as: “any sign capable of being represented graphically and capable of distinguishing the goods or services of one undertaking from those of others companies”. Copyright should not be confused with copyright, although they both offer protection to the creator of an artistic work.
The distinction lies in the level of protection, especially as a musician. Copyright is protection granted automatically to the creators or owners of original works, while trademarks are strictly the registration of artistic works to show the distinction and identification of a particular company or company. one work of art over another. Trademarks are applicable in all industries. So, depending on your musical aspirations, it should be noted that copyright lasts for a lifetime regardless of your activity in the industry, while trademarks last for ten (10) years provided you are active. in the company to maintain your eligibility. Moreover, your activity will be beneficial when it comes to renewing your brand.
Just to be clear, you have no legal obligation to protect yourself. However, if you have spent time, effort and money to organize thousands of followers, strong brand recognition and a platform to promote your music, your craft is worth protecting because your music catalog grows over time, as does its value.
In 2018, British artist group Section Boyz did an interview on NFTR. The flagship project don’t panic was a huge success debuting at No. 3 in the UK chart and staying in the top 40 in the first week. They explain their name change from Section Boyz to Smoke Boys and how it happened. In short, while they were busy recording in the studio focusing on music, someone had trademarked “Section Boyz”. Consequently, the group has been entangled in litigation with intellectual property lawyers going back and forth for years over said name. Since the group is now known by a different name following the dropped litigation, they can no longer go through “Section Boyz” because someone had beaten them to the registration mark. Therefore, they need to start rebuilding the brand. The reality for artists is that the sooner you are protected, the better to avoid such calamities.
Can you imagine building your name, branding yourself and growing your fanbase so that someone would force you to change your name? It could confuse fans, misdirect streams and ticket sales, or worse, an artist is embroiled in a scandal that innocently results in your cancellation. The sooner you protect yourself, the better it will be to avoid such pitfalls.
Is the brand for everyone?
Early protection is prudent, but before you start, you should consider the following:
- Your career ambitions – Not everyone wants to be the next Digga D or Adele or DBE. You may want to consider teaching and helping the local community or performing sporadically so it may not suit your needs.
- Group or solo artist. Depending on which one you decide, it may be worth filing a trademark for the band or just for yourself.
- Trademark registration involves costs and even lawyers.
- The uniqueness of your name. This may work for you at first, as the trademark may not be imperative if you manage yourself and plan to keep a low-key career. However, if you sell clothing and have a large volume of streams and a top-tier album plus a website, trademarking is a must.
- Your location. Are you the pianist or the drummer or the guitarist? Maybe filing your name wouldn’t help then. You could perfectly do business with your name as many in the industry do.
- Other things to consider are location which is vital in the world we live in now where an international booking is a direct ‘dm’ away. Does my brand protect me internationally? And if I want that extra international security, how do I start?
At this point you should have a basic understanding of the relevance of the law in music and after careful consideration; you have your answers to the 6 questions above. Now let’s see how it can work for you and give you or your artist the protection you need.
Where do I start:
- Choose a name and tick.
Before you make the effort to register your name, it’s worth checking out. Let’s start with the UK registration. There is a search tool on the government website which can be found at https://www.gov.uk/search-for-trademark. This ensures that the name is available for use. You may want to do additional checks for other artists using similar names and their followers to prevent them from challenging your trademark if they deem it necessary due to their audience.
- Choose a location
Location is vital. In the digital age where a booking can come from a ‘DM’ on social media, it is worth considering an international check-in. Registering in the UK has its limitations. US courts may not respect the UK mark to protect your name; you must register there for the courts to honor your mark. Due to the Madrid Agreement, you may not need to register in every country.
- Registration step
Once you have completed the checks and are satisfied that no one is threatening to challenge your name, the registration stage can begin. During this period, you will not be able to modify your brand, so be sure of your name. Don’t forget the legal definition, you need to make sure your name meets these criteria and especially the right class for your purpose, which is also crucial. If you choose the wrong class, your mark is worthless. That being said, the class that usually applies to artists and musicians would fall under “category 41”. They would be relevant to your publishing, recordings, print music and live music, to say the least. The application process takes four months, during which time people have the opportunity to challenge it. It would always be wise to engage the services of an intellectual property rights lawyer to help you with your application, as you can only apply once and choosing the right class can be cumbersome. You can make similar requests, but it can be an arduous process. Once accepted, then and only then can you make your international application.
- Costs involved
There are costs involved in this process: first, you pay £100 upfront, plus £50 for each additional class. You will then receive a report telling you if your app meets the rules. If you wish to appoint a lawyer, you can however bear in mind that his fees will be considerably higher. International trademark taxes are structured differently depending on the number of countries in which you wish to be protected. Additionally, the 10-year term will still apply and can be renewed simultaneously with the UK application.
Mark your name only?
In recent years, producers have become just as notable as artists with catchphrases such as “m1 on the beat” or “we got London on da track” or Tion Wayne’s infamous “mmm-hmm”. Producers should also consider copyrighting their music, as many can take advantage of your brand that you have worked diligently to create. Imagine someone making £5,000 a month on Depop selling clothes with your slogan on them, this can hurt your brand, especially if those products are associated with poor quality.
You can trademark just about anything within reasonable sounds included as long as it meets the legal definition. It is important to note that you cannot trademark a name or lyrics that you are about to use, trademark organizations frown upon this as many seek to collect and store trademarks to limit use by others. others.
That extra check most artists miss
Frequently, you might hear artists talking about new hot topics in publishing, recording, print music, lyrics, and live music. Indeed, some artists are beginning to realize the many ways they can get paid for the same songs outside of royalties. For example, most refer to royalties for licensing music to play, while mechanisms relate to licensing music to sell. Labels have to pay to print the music and then sell it to fans. They can’t just take their copy and duplicate it multiple times without paying whoever made the song. So they have to get the licensing rights from the publisher, which is usually the same person who made the song. For example, you are a writer as the creator of the music and the publisher as the licensor of the music.
You will get two streams of income, one as a writer and the other as a publisher, as the label/seller has to pay them each time the song is distributed. Artists often don’t see the importance of negotiating their publishing deals effectively, which can mean you’re missing out on an additional source of income long after your career is over, which could amount to hundreds of thousands or even dollars. million.
This can be seen in the notable case of Caribbean singer, Sister Nancy with her infamous track “Bam Bam”. Conversely, Master P of No Limit Records understood the business of the industry and was “in control” of it when it came to intellectual property rights such as trademarks and copyrights. This was notably said in Snoop Dogg’s interview where he credited Master P with teaching him a lot of things he didn’t know while he was with and after the infamous Death Row Records.
To conclude, you must have a clear understanding of the basics of branding and its importance in music. You should also have the information needed to decide if the trademark is worth registering based on your position in the industry.