The artists formerly known as Lady Antebellum tested the court’s general opinion this week when, after changing their name to Lady A in a gesture of support for the Black Lives Matter movement, broke news that they were suing a blues singer, Anita White, who has used the stage name Lady A for several years.
We asked Kurt Dahl, an entertainment lawyer and partner at Vancouver’s Murphy & Company company – who also plays drums and blogs about the intersection of the two at LawyerDrummer.com – to take us into the case.
“I see a lot of disputes about the artist’s name coming over my desk, but they rarely go to trial,” Dahl said. “There must be an incredible amount of money at stake for these issues to approach litigation, which of course is here. Most often, it is very threatening legal action rather than taking it.
“Lady Antebellum really made a series of mistakes here,”
But he noted that, contrary to a brief reading of the headlines on the case, the band does not sue White for preventing her from using “Lady A” moniker, nor do they seek a monetary amount but try to make sure they come not to be sued for using the handle in the future when the two artists adapt to “share” the name.
Dahl also said that the $ 10 million that White requested in return for her cooperation is “high, given the circumstances.” (White says she intends to donate half the amount to various charities.)
A crucial statement about the band’s suit is that they filed a trademark application for the nickname “Lady A” in 2010 and received no opposition. But while the proposed trademark would have been published by the US Patent and Trademark Office, and White would have had the opportunity to object, Dahl says it’s unlikely she even knew such a thing happened.
The band’s suit notes that White has been using Lady A since 2010, but adds that “based on information and belief” White has never noticed the name.
“She would not have received a notification if she had not registered for them or had previously applied for that brand,” Dahl said. “Onus would have been on her to file objections [and] I strongly doubt that the band would have reached her. “
He continued, “My guess is that the band and their team did some searching at that time, found the existing Lady A and decided that she was not big enough to pose a threat. By “big enough” I mean her reach as an artist when it comes to sales all over the world, touring etc. The alternative is that the band (and their manager and brand lawyer) couldn’t find her via Google search, which is hard to believe. Summary: they got horrible legal advice somewhere along the way. They should have called me. “
Despite an Instagram post from June 15 announcing that the band had “joined privately with artist Lady A” for “transparent, honest and authentic conversations”, things have definitely taken a turn.
“This is my life. Lady A is my brand, I have used it for over 20 years and I am proud of what I have done,” White told Rolling Stone this week. “This is too much now. They are using the name because of a Black Lives Matter incident that is only a moment in time for them. If it mattered, it would have played some role for them earlier. It shouldn’t have taken George Floyd to die because they realized that their name had a slave reference to it.
“It is an opportunity for them to pretend that they are not racist or pretend that this means anything to them. If it did, they should have done some research. “