Trademarking Your Artist Name: What You Need to Know

trademark nameA musical artist’s name is one of the easiest ways for fans to connect to their music. Just hearing the name of your favorite artist makes you think of their music and their personal brand. Artist names can range from actual birth names like Elvis Presley to creative monikers like 2Pac, but one thing they all have in common is that they become an artist’s identity.

However, an artist cannot assume that their identity is immune to theft—whether that means someone taking their name or using their name for their own purposes.

The difference between trademarks and copyrights

It’s important to understand the difference between a trademark and a copyright. Copyrighting protects your intellectual creative property such as your songs and recordings. Trademarking is a different concept that is used to protect identifiers like slogans, logos, and most importantly, names.

With all the music pirating going on these days, artists have become familiar with the importance of copywriting their creative body of work. Unfortunately, many artists do not consider the importance of trademarking their name.

The benefits of trademarking your name

Any of the entertainment lawyers in Florida will tell you that trademarking a performing or artist name has several benefits.

One of them is that you can prevent unwanted parties from using your name as commercial leverage, such as promoting a product associated with your name, without your express approval. Though this may not seem like something a business would do, it does happen from time to time, and is also fairly common among smaller businesses—say an apparel company selling shirts with your image on it, just because they sell.

In a more extreme example, cybersquatters have been known to purchase internet domain names that are identical or similar to the names of artists—then demanded exorbitant ransoms for the release of the domain. Though the Federal Government has curtailed the success of these cybersquatters, even artists like Madonna, Sting, and Bruce Springsteen have fallen prey to these internet highwaymen—and they have not always won their case in court.

Another issue can arise if an upstart artist takes your performing name or gives themselves a name that is similar to yours, perhaps hoping to piggyback off your success. If your artist name is protected by a Trademark, other artists will be forced to come up with a unique name that is not—as defined by the US Patent and Trademark Office—confusingly similar.

For example, a burgeoning rapper could not attempt to become a 50Cent look-alike by using the performing name of 75Cent (even if he insists on having 1.5 times more street cred). A Latino sensation on electric guitar could not attempt to skyrocket their popularity by taking the stage name of Carlos Mantana. We could come up with more examples, but we also think you get the point.

As you might guess, it is possible for two artists to be using the same stage name (or real name) in good faith. If you become aware of such an issue, it’s a good idea to act first and engage an entertainment law attorney. Another artist trademarking your mutually similar name (if they haven’t already) can force you to rebrand your entire career.

The power of a trademark is strong. So strong, that Prince Rogers Nelson actually changed his name to an unpronounceable symbol (now trademark registered as Love Sign #2) in order to get out of his contract with Warner Bros, a studio with which he had a severe falling out. When the contract ended in 2000, he went back to making music under his own name.

How can Manos Schenk help you protect your artist name?

Tom J. Manos of Manos Schenk is not the ordinary attorney among entertainment lawyers in Miami. Mr. Manos himself was actively involved in the music industry for many years, both as a musician and a performer. As such, he not only understands the legal ins and outs of trademarking an artist name, but connects very well with his music industry clients and understands their needs from a place of personal experience.

He represents a number of producers, some of which have their own record labels, helping them with disputes over artist contracts, copyright infringement, song royalties, and agreements over percentages and compensation. Mr. Manos is a recognized music contract lawyer in Miami. He has extensive experience in helping new record labels establish their legal structure and draft up the documents they will use regularly, which can in turn make or break that label’s success.