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I am sure that all well known bands have copyrighted their names, but how does this work with the millions of small unknown local bands?

I guess there are a lot of bands with the same name, what happens if one gets famous?
Is it like: who does first copyright, owns the name.
Or more like: the band which used name first and can proof it keeps it?

I dont know 2 famous bands with the same name existing, so is this possible at all?

What about bands using firstname or lastnames of the members, can they be copyrighted, even when another band has members with the same names?

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Legally, band names are pretty much like... brand names (no pun intended).

First of all a technicality, names are not copyrighted, they are trademarked and can also be registered.

Legal details of course depend from country to country, but in general, like with any business, if you can show that you have been operating a business or selling a product using a certain name, in theory (i.e. without taking into account the difficulties of going to court against a big shark that's ripping of your name) you can ascertain in court your ownership of the trademark and the right to exclusively use that name (within the same or similar lines of business). Ways of showing that you have been using the name prior to any others, are, in the case of bands, for example contracts with promoters, advertisements and published work. Specially if you have a record that's recognized by a professional author rights association as a work published under an artist's name, that's a pretty good protection for that name.

The safest way to protect the name, however, is to make it a registered trademark. I think that registering a trademark at country level in Europe is not too expensive, probably not either in the US at state level. Registering a trademark at European or world level is very expensive and it's a recurring expense (you have to have attorneys constantly looking at possible violations).

A cheap and easy way to have some level of protection nowadays is to create accounts/profiles for your band in every social network and online music platform you get your hands on (facebook, twitter, reverb nation, soundcloud, myspace, etc.). Not only these can be additional evidence in court if ever it comes to that, as ripping of your name will be deterred by the fact that the name is already being used in the platforms.

BTW, there are cases of relatively known bands with the same name, but usually in different time periods and operating mostly in different countries (an example is that of the bands both called 'Home' in the UK and in the US).

  • 1
    This is pretty thorough and accurate. For more info, google "bands with the same name". Plenty of hits about the legality of it, as well as articles with examples. – Johnny Bones Jul 20 '16 at 20:47
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This is pretty anecdotal & I have no hard references for some of the examples, however...

Usually the first one to get a recognisable hit can force or even just persuade any others to change their name. I'm not sure this is even done using lawyers, usually the other band just gives in after one letter from the record company.

This one I just "know to be true" because I was there at the time..
Many years ago - late 70's - some friends of mine had a minor UK hit with a band called The Invaders. At the same time there was another Invaders* trying to become successful, but they hadn't quite done it yet. Their first record wasn't even out. They had to change their name...
... to Madness.

The Invaders vanished. Madness did rather well for themselves.

* I actually didn't realise until I just looked it up on Wikipedia that Madness were The North London Invaders, so not even an identical name, merely similar

Another example, Coldplay 'stole' * the name from another band. They liked the name, they took it - they had the first hit & the name became theirs.

*Apparently, with permission

There was a case, I think went to court, in the 70s/80's when the girl band The Runaways had their first hit. An unknown duo had been touring small clubs for years using that name. The girl band got to keep it.

The other side of the coin is that the myriad small unknown bands sharing identical names never really ever need to separate their identity in quite the same way - so I guess they just carry on, oblivious of each other - until & unless one does become famous.

  • I like your answer, interesting anecdotes, upvoted it, but i will accept joseems because he gave a more general answer – kl78 Jul 20 '16 at 17:31
  • that's fine. Thank you for your comment. @joseem 's answer is probably more accurate, too, for the 'internet age' - my answer is really based on cases from before the ubiquity of the web, when 2 bands in 2 countries - or even just counties - may never even discover there was a name-clash. – Tetsujin Jul 20 '16 at 17:44

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