Ok, so you and all of your buddies sit down one day and decide to form a band. You sit down at your first impromptu "business meeting" over a case of cold coke (insert other favorite band beverage here) and you start your checklist:
1. Instruments: Check
2. Rehearsal Space (Your Friend's Garage): Check
3. Molly Hatchet Songbook: Check
4. Band Name: ...............
... a blank stare stretches across everyone's face, and thus your band has hit its first of many roadblocks on the road to becoming "The Next Big Thing." So, you do what every other band does, you think back to your favorite band names in movies, your favorite one liners in Monty Python skits as well as "Saturday Night Live," and all of your other favorite shows and FINALLY someone comes up with a name that everyone loves (or more likely everyone can somewhat live with) and The Band is born.
For the purpose of this illustration, let's suppose that your band picks the name "Blind Cheetah." While you're positive that a record deal, scantily-clad members of the opposite sex and suitcases full of money are just inches away, there are a couple of things that you may not be aware of, important things like -- Is there another band called Blind Cheetah anywhere on earth? Before you start printing up t-shirts, buying BlindCheetah.com and building your MySpace page, this is a serious question that has to be answered.
"Why does it matter?" you may ask. Well, there is a large body of law in the United States, as well as in almost every other nation in the world, that prevents competitors from using the same name.
If there is another Blind Cheetah performing anywhere in the good old U.S. of A. (we'll leave the rest of the world out of this for now) and if you were to start performing in area night clubs and selling t-shirts with "Blind Cheetah" emblazed on them in hot pink, then the other (undoubtedly horrible sounding) Blind Cheetah "impostors" could have a Trademark Infringement Claim against you.
If they were to pursue it, it could be very costly because if you are served with a lawsuit, you are REQUIRED to respond to it, no matter how ridiculous it may sound. And, as you might have guessed, at this point you will need to hire a lawyer to handle this situation. I can tell you that this call is much more expensive than the option I'm about to tell you about.
The truth is that this is a very common issue that sometimes goes unnoticed, but often ends up in a costly visit to the courtroom. So, you have two choices. You can wing it or you can opt for the safer route: do a little homework for yourself and then call an attorney who specializes in trademarks.
I know that the mere mention of the word "attorney" conjures up many feelings in all of us, but I can assure you there are some very cool attorneys out there... I can think of at least one right now! And the trademark process is really not that expensive. Certainly it's not nearly as expensive as defending yourself against a multi-million dollar record label or disgruntled band. Trust me, or you can learn the hard way for yourself.
I do, however, advise you to do a little homework first because there are so many bands in the world that the likelihood of your band being the first one ever to come up with a particular name, as ingenious and innovative as you are, is about as good as the likelihood of coming up with a reality show that is productive to society... In other words, don't count on it.
Here are a few things you can do to avoid spending money before you have to:
a. Search Google, Yahoo, MySpace, YouTube, purevolume and every other portal you can think of to see if any other band, musician or entertainment company is using the same name or a name very similar to yours (the names don't even have to be identical to get you in trouble, a similar name is all it takes)
b. Search the Worldwide Band Name Registry at www.bandname.com. This registry is "the most comprehensive list of bands in the world." You can search for a band name here, and you can register your band name if no one else is already using it.
c. Check to see if anyone owns any of the domain names with your proposed band name in it, after all you are going to need one anyway. Try these first: BandName.com, BandNameMusic.com, BandNameOnline.com, BandNameRocks.com and anything else you can think of that might lead you to an answer.
If, after checking the above resources, you are still confident that your band name is available, then it's time to make the decision to spend a little money now or a lot of money later. If you're at that crossroad, and you'd like to discuss that further, feel free to give me a call.