I saw a headline earlier this week which read “The Animals seek to have their group name registered as a trademark”. This brought up the question for me as to whether you sound copyright your band name. Why bother and what would be the advantages?
Perhaps most well-known for their 1964 hit ‘The House of the Rising Sun’, The Animals first formed in 1963. They disbanded in 1966, but decided to reunite in 1968 and then again in 1975. This apparently still wasn’t enough and they recorded their last album in 1983 and then performed live for the very last time. You may also know them from an ongoing dispute regarding ownership of the band’s name.
In 2004 drummer and one of the original band members, John Steel, applied to register The Animals as a trademark. He was attempting to do so for use in regards to “CDs, musical recordings” and “musical live performances”. Eric Burdon, the vocalist and another founding member of the band, then opposed this under the Trade Marks Act 1994.
[Section 3 point 6: A trade mark shall not be registered if or to the extent that the application is made in bad faith. Section 5 point 4: A trade mark shall not be registered if, or to the extent that, its use in the United Kingdom is liable to be prevented by virtue of any rule of law (in particular, the law of passing off) protecting an unregistered trade mark or other sign used in the course of trade].
John Steel claimed to be the executive owner to the rights of the name The Animals. Burdon claimed that he personally embodied any goodwill associated with The Animals name. This was also rejected partly because he had billed himself as ‘Eric Burdon and The Animals’ as early as 1967. This consequently divided the goodwill associated with his own name from that of the band.
Should You Copyright your Band Name?
A comparable situation occurred when Diana Ross distanced herself from The Supremes, billing herself as ‘Diana Ross and The Supremes’. The Supremes later continued as a separate entity, without Ross. Similarly, several versions of The Animals have existed without Eric Burdon.
Additionally, the goodwill and reputation was accumulated by all members of the band – in 1983 they called themselves “the last men standing”. This meant they collectively owned the rights to the name The Animals in relation to live and recorded performances. The point that John Steel was also one of “the last men standing” did not enable him to lay claim to or attempt to independently benefit by registering The Animals as his own trademark.
Just something to keep in mind for your own band.