Patterico's Pontifications

7/9/2020

Band Changes Name To Lady A, Sues Blues Singer Using Same Name ‘To Affirm Right To Continue To Use The Name Lady A’

Filed under: General — Dana @ 5:54 pm



[guest post by Dana]

[Ed.I wasn’t comfortable with the title of the post, and struggled to find something suitable and succinct. I’ve edited to something more clear, but still clunky and long…]

FYI: the band is white, the blues singer is black…

During a time of racial unrest and national discord, a white country outfit called Lady Antebellum had an epiphany after 20 years, and recently expressed remorse for using a professional name which failed to “take into account the associations that weigh down this word referring to the period of history before the Civil War, which includes slavery”. Realizing that it might not be a well-considered (or well-received) name these days, they then changed the band’s name to “Lady A”. However, the road to wokeness has been anything but smooth:

In June, the band formerly known as Lady Antebellum announced it would change its name to Lady A to remove any association with slavery. But weeks after appearing to reach an agreement with Seattle-based blues singer Anita White, who has been using the same name for more than a decade, the country group announced on Wednesday it is suing her.

“Today we are sad to share that our sincere hope to join together with Anita White in unity and common purpose has ended,” the band members of Lady A said in a statement to CBS News. “She and her team have demanded a $10 million payment, so reluctantly we have come to the conclusion that we need to ask a court to affirm our right to continue to use the name Lady A, a trademark we have held for many years.”

Band members Hillary Scott, Charles Kelley, and David Haywood decided to sue after “White’s attempt to enforce purported trademark rights in a mark that Plaintiffs have held for more than a decade,” according to the lawsuit. The band is not seeking monetary damages, the lawsuit said.

According to the lawsuit, the band had reportedly been going by both Lady A and Lady Antebellum since 2006-2007, and the band trademarked “Lady A” in 2011, to no one’s objections:

“Prior to 2020, White did not challenge, in any way, Plaintiffs’ open, obvious, and widespread nationwide and international use of the Lady A mark as a source indicator,” the lawsuit said.

The lawsuit does note that White has identified as Lady A since 2010 and that she also features her music on a Spotify artist page. But the suit pointed out that White’s artist page at the time of the court filing had 166 monthly listeners, compared to the band’s more than 7 million.

White responded to the lawsuit, saying:

“I had suggested on the Zoom call that they go by the Band Lady A, or Lady A the Band, and I could be Lady A the Artist, but they didn’t want to do that.”

She explained that in the recent past, she was unable to verify that her name was Lady A for multiple days while attempting to upload a new single to streaming services.

In the band’s statement, they cited White “demanding a $10 million payment” as their reason to filing the lawsuit. White explained to Vulture that she wanted to use half the money to rebrand and donate the other half to organizations that support independent Black artists.

“I was quiet for two weeks because I was trying to believe that it was going to be okay and that they would realize that it would be easier to just change their name, or pay me for my name,” White said. “Five million dollars is nothing, and I’m actually worth more than that, regardless of what they think. But here we go again with another white person trying to take something from a Black person, even though they say they’re trying to help. If you want to be an advocate or an ally, you help those who you’re oppressing. And that might require you to give up something because I am not going to be erased.”

The band said in the lawsuit:

“We never even entertained the idea that she [White] shouldn’t also be able to use the name Lady A, and never will — today’s action doesn’t change that. …We felt we had been brought together for a reason and saw this as living out the calling that brought us to make this change in the first place.

We’re disappointed that we won’t be able to work together with Anita for that greater purpose. We’re still committed to educating ourselves, our children and doing our part to fight for the racial justice so desperately needed in our country and around the world. …We hope Anita and the advisers she is now listening to will change their minds about their approach. We can do so much more together than in this dispute.

Legalities aside, the optics of this are just terrible: a white band gets woke, and realize that their professional name of 20 years might be “associated with slavery,” they need to change it. Thus they break free from their antebellum shackles and give themselves a new name, which unbeknownst to them, happens to be the exact same name that a black blues singer has used professionally for more than 20 years. And because the concerned parties are unable to come to an agreement about use of the name, the white band decides to sue the black singer … because of racial justice.

Man, for professional musicians, they strike me as being mighty tone deaf.

Anyway, here’s an extra: You can watch Lady A (the singer) perform “Mississippi Woman” here. You can watch Lady A (the band) perform “Need You Now” here.

–Dana

17 Responses to “Band Changes Name To Lady A, Sues Blues Singer Using Same Name ‘To Affirm Right To Continue To Use The Name Lady A’”

  1. I wanted to add that, according to the band’s Twitter page, the name “Lady A” was the nickname their fans gave them.

    Dana (25e0dc)

  2. Their less historically clueless fans, no doubt.

    Leviticus (681fa7)

  3. I know nothing about Lady Antebellum, nor do I know much about patent and trademark law, though I did for a time hold a trademark. My question is that I was told that a trademark holder had to make use of their trademark in order to keep it active. To what degree was Lady Antebellum using “Lady A” during the past decade-plus, and just how little commercial usage does it require to keep the trademark active.

    And regarding Ms. White: sorry, but if you have 166 Spotify followers (though I imagine that number will grow) please don’t tell me that you need $5 million to “rebrand” yourself. And an additional $5 million earmarked for emerging black artists (and controlled by Ms. White, no doubt) is a pretty damn big sum as well. Was she going to find 100 promising emerging black artists and give them each $50k?

    JVW (ee64e4)

  4. She’ll get more listeners from this controversy than she would total for the rest of her life.

    You’d think that might prompt them all to reach an amicable solution.

    No wait it’s people and a legal dispute.
    _

    harkin (5af287)

  5. I’ve got no sympathy for the band here but this sequence of events

    the band had reportedly been going by both Lady A and Lady Antebellum since 2006-2007, and the band trademarked “Lady A” in 2011, to no one’s objections:

    White has identified as Lady A since 2010

    Doesn’t seem to support

    here we go again with another white person trying to take something from a Black person

    Also,

    White’s attempt to enforce purported trademark rights in a mark that Plaintiffs have held for more than a decade,” according to the lawsuit. The band is not seeking monetary damages

    Doesn’t seem to match with the headline. If what is posted is correct, the band is suing to protect a trademark they own not for a registered trademark held by another artist. They aren’t taking a trademark from her if she doesn’t own it. White wants $10m for a trademark she doesn’t own and has been infringing since 2010. It sounds like the band was willing to let her keep doing it but drew the line at a shakedown.

    frosty (f27e97)

  6. @3 It looks like the band was the first to use “Lady A”, the only party to register, and as far as I know they’ve been using it as long as I’ve been aware of them.

    Marks can fall into disuse or be abandoned but even ones that might appear abandoned aren’t safe to used with laying a legal foundation. It’s easy to get rights to a brand new mark but not nearly as easy to reuse one that appears abandoned. It’s sort of like adverse possession for real property. It sounds like a simple thing but it’s not easy to pull off.

    At this point the band probably also has attorneys explaining non-enforcement of exclusive rights. I’m not sure White can keep using the mark even if the band wanted to allow that now that they’re aware of it and this has become newsworthy.

    frosty (f27e97)

  7. frosty,

    I have to admit I wasn’t comfortable with the post title, but got tired of trying to figure out how to word it more clearly, and yet not be too wordy. I’m glad you brought this to my attention. I’ve edited it, see what you think:

    Band Changes Name To Lady A, Sues Blues Singer Using Same Name ‘To Affirm Right To Continue To Use The Name Lady A’

    It’s long and a bit clunky, but I’m stumped.

    Dana (25e0dc)

  8. All the lady has is a colorable* fair use claim. It means the judge will probably not award the band attorneys’ fees under the Lanham Act when it wins the lawsuit.

    *(no pun intended, it’s a legal term)

    nk (1d9030)

  9. Lady A wanted the other lady to be called A Lady, the other Lady A said she was already both a lady and Lady A, the band should change their name to Ladies A, Lady A’s, or Lady Ayyyysss!!

    Colonel Klink (Ret) (305827)

  10. @7 I really wasn’t trying to be a jack wagon. Even the Lady A wikipedia entry has wording like your original. What you’ve got now sounds objective and I appreciate you reading my comment. I also keep reading that White has been using the mark for decades, implying she predates the bands use, but it doesn’t look like that’s true. If it were true we’d have an actual infringement case on our hands with serious attorneys on both sides and claims for damages by White.

    Honestly I don’t know how I feel on this one. Lady A was clearly using the moment to rebrand and I agree with her criticism. Everyone knows what the bands name used to be. At the same time White didn’t bother to register a mark and it’s not like she didn’t know about the conflict. If anyone knew she did and now she’s trying to shakedown the band by playing the victim.

    This also reminds me of Thinner. White is trying fight the curse of the white man from town, no pun intended. Except in this case it’s not an illegitimate use of the law.

    frosty (f27e97)

  11. $10 million? Sounds more like Lady Avarice.

    norcal (a5428a)

  12. Trademarks: more white law to crush black people with!

    Kevin M (ab1c11)

  13. Trademarks are raciss.

    Kevin M (ab1c11)

  14. This type of IP stupidity isn’t limited to musicians. TiVo could have been worth kazillions if they had competent patent counsel back when they first started. Instead they filed a couple badly drafted patents that EVERYONE walked over. Square had to pay out %50 million to get back an as-designed patent a contractor filed — the contract demanded source code but not patent assignments.

    Kevin M (ab1c11)

  15. Who cares.

    Colonel Haiku (2601c0)


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