Artists find inspiration everywhere, and musicians are no exception. Often, in trying to come up with a clever band name, you might use a favorite pop culture reference or think about some other establishment with the feeling you want your music to evoke. This isn’t always a bad idea, as long as you handle it creatively and make sure you have a right to certain trademarks. However, without the proper research, you could find yourself in a bit of a legal conflict with the source of your inspiration.
This is what happened with indie pop supergroup, The Postal Service, in August of 2003.
The United States Postal Service vs. The Postal Service
In 2001, already established indie music artists Ben Gibbard (of Death Cab For a Cutie), Jenny Lewis, and Jimmy Tamborello came together for a musical project of their own. The band started with the members sending digital audio tapes back and forth to each other through the mail. It was two years before they released their first album, Give Up. Their lead single, “Such Great Heights” became a quick indie hit.
This is also how the band The Postal Service got the attention of The United States Postal Service, who owned a trademark on their name. In August of 2003, The USPS sent a cease and desist letter to the band, insisting that they change their name due to copyright infringement. Instead, the band entered into negotiations with the USPS.
In a fun and happy ending, the USPS eventually agreed to let The Postal Service continue to use their trademark — on a couple conditions. One was that the band help with some promotions for the USPS, including a performance at their annual National Executive Conference. The USPS also briefly sold The Postal Service albums on their website, and used “Such Great Heights” in an advertising campaign in 2007.
What Your Band Can Learn From The Postal Service
The USPS and The Postal Service band were able to settle their differences in an amicable and mutually beneficial way. However, this isn’t always the case when a band is accused of copyright infringement. To avoid getting a cease and desist letter of your own, here are some tips you’ll want to follow:
- Keep Your Band Name Truly Unique. A unique band name is always better. It will make for a stronger trademark registration for your own brand, and it will keep you from running into any legal issues. It will also be difficult for your fans to confuse with anything else.
- Use the Public Domain. If you want to make your band name a pop culture reference, consider the public domain. Works that have reached a certain age and have expired copyrights fall into the public domain, which everyone can use for free. One example of a band who did this is The Jane Austen Argument. Since Jane Austen has been dead for over 200 years and her works are all in the public domain, this name is safe.
- Ask Permission. If you still want to reference something more recent, consider asking permission before a cease-and-desist letter is sent out. It may be that the trademark holder doesn’t mind you using their name, or they may want to work out a deal with you similar to the deal between the USPS and The Postal Service band.
- Have Your Attorney Research and Register Your Own Trademark. An intellectual property attorney can research current registered trademarks to make sure your band name doesn’t infringe on anything already in existence. If it doesn’t, they can help you register your own trademark so that no one infringes on your copyright in turn.
Need help navigating trademark issues while forming your own band? Garcia-Zamor has over two decades of combined experience, and we’re here to help. Contact us today to learn more.