The music industry has been in a state of dramatic flux for years now. With the advent of the internet, the primary medium for transferring music has gone from physical items like compact discs to online streaming services. This is only one example, but it completely changes the way artists make a profit on their art and it changes the landscape completely.
One thing that has not changed is the existence of people and entities that will try to make a profit on the music, names, likenesses and logos of popular artists and bands. With the ever-present potential for being exploited in this way, it seems obvious that bands should always obtain copyright and trademark protection. However, for younger bands just starting out, often with minimal resources at their disposal, this seems like an unneeded expense.
What is trademark protection?
First, you need to understand what trademark protection is. While copyrights protect artists from stealing their creative work, a trademark protects the logos and representation of the artist or band. The band KISS has a very distinctive logo for their band, with the all-caps and the specific font, etc. That is an example of a trademark.
Pros and cons of getting trademark protection
The most important benefit of obtaining copyright protection is that it gives you a right to prevent others from capitalizing off your band’s name, image, etc. Note that most trademark cases are lawsuits, not criminal cases. You would have to bring a lawsuit against those who are infringing on your trademarks.
We can see the benefit most clearly in a recent case involving Guns & Roses. As Forbes online reports, some of the band members are bringing a lawsuit against people who have been selling bootlegged t-shirts and other merchandise at their concerts. If successful, the band could make a lot of money.
The primary con of getting trademark protection is that it is expensive. For younger bands just starting out, it can seem prohibitively expensive. Further, for wedding bands and bands planning to stay local to do their art, there is a very low probability of gaining the kind of widespread exposure that would make it profitable for bootleggers to capitalize off your trademarks anyway.
However, for bands and artists making original music and have any possibility of financial success and widespread exposure, it is wise to obtain legal protection for your image, logo and other trademarks.
The best thing to do is talk with an experienced music law attorney to determine whether your trademarks could be protected legally, and whether this is the right choice for you or your band.