On Copyright, Trademarks and other boring (but important) crap

Red metal fence with padlocks attached

An artist we work with just told us a story that is truly the stuff of nightmares. Once upon a time, she was in a band. One member of that band (not her) was kicked out before the band released their record. After it was all done, registered and released, this “jettisoned cargo / garbage human” purchased the TRADEMARK for the band name and legally forced them to take down any and all listings related to that band name.

How is this kind of foolishness possible? Because the rest of the band didn’t understand the difference between Copyright and Trademark. And, evidently, someone in the mix was a total tool… The point is, knowing the difference (and doing something about it) is a good idea.

On Copyright: One point of house-keeping before we start. You aren’t “copying something you wrote,” you are “protecting your right to keep your intellectual property from being copied by another person.” So when you say that you completed the process, you didn’t have it “Copywritten.” You had it “Copyrighted.” /end of rant

So. You want to protect your rights for a collection of songs – the old guard calls this an “album”. That’s what Copyright is for. Do this and when someone steals your stuff, you actually have legal recourse. It costs $55 and it’s kind of confusing. But this guy Ari Herstand has been educating people on this stuff for a LONG time and has already laid it out far better than I could. GO HERE: http://aristake.com/?post=91 This guy is smart and has done ALL of the leg work for you.

On Trademark: If you have a band name or stage name and you want it for yourself, the first thing to do is find out if someone else already has it. Go to the Patent and Trademark Office website: https://www.uspto.gov/trademark and look for the words “Search TESS.” This is where you will encounter one of the absolute worst websites on the planet. Seriously, it’s one flaming gif away from being mulletsgalore.com, but without any of the comedic value. Put your name in the search engine and, bam. Is it there? You’re probably good to submit your own request for that name. If it is, well… Time to get creative and pick a new name (or buck the system and take chances, you rebel). Keep in mind, this process isn’t cheap – at minimum, you’re looking at $225. But if you want to get it done, here’s where you do it: https://www.uspto.gov/trademarks-application-process/filing-online

The point here is that Copyright and Trademark are two separate processes designed to secure your rights in two separate arenas. If you do both, you cover your bases. If not, well, just be sure not to fire any band members, OK?

I know this stuff is boring and probably has nothing to do with what you THOUGHT you’d be doing when you imagined making records. But it is important. So hang in there, you got this. Post questions as usual if you’ve got ‘em. And of course, thanks for your friendship, your interest, and your art.




Owen Sartori is a 35-year veteran in the music industry as a musician, songwriter, and producer. Currently, he is a co-owner of F5 SoundHouse in Minneapolis, MN and helps mentor, produce and write with/for artists wherever he is needed.

For more, visit f5soundhouse.com.