My band just signed with a major record company. What happens to our name if there is a breakup?
UPDATED: February 20, 2013
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When a band is signed to a major record deal, the record company will usually want to control the name, own the name, or ask for the right to decide who are the band’s "key members.” In the event of a break-up, those key members would retain common ownership of band’s name.
Advantages and Disadvantages of Losing a Band Name
Many musicians feel that losing ownership of their band name is giving up too much. The flip-side is there are also many cases where it’s a very good thing for a corporation or record company to own the name. First, the costs of keeping records circulating and promoting are beyond the ability of most band members, but they're not beyond the ability of a record company. This means extended profitability for a musical career. Second, record label ownership may help clarify disputes between former and new band members. A music record company will typically fight for its band members’ rights. Though some of the band members will feel left out at the end of the legal process, it does make the price of that band name skyrocket---which is always a benefit to any current or former member. Third, the more success a band or its members have had, the more power they have behind own their name. For instance, Hootie and the Blowfish is a very powerful band: their success was so widely expected from the start that they negotiated for their own label almost immediately.
What Happens to Band Names
Trademarked band names fall into disuse sometimes. A trademark has to be in commercial use to stay protected. People cannot simply create great band names, trademark them, and then sit on the name to collect for the brilliance of their idea. However, note that there are cases where some obvious names (such as someone’s last name, e.g. - Korn) cannot be used because they have taken on a meaning of their own. Similarly, Prince fought for a decade to win his own name rights from a record company. You'll need to speak with an attorney for help and guidance if you are unclear about how best to protect your band name.