Sounding the 805

Media law 101 and Ed Kowalczyk found alive in Ojai

By Chris Mastrovito 06/10/2010

Sometimes band name changes are a creative decision, while other times they are a legal necessity. Some 805 bands are learning the hard way the importance of establishing legal claim to their names. Ventura hard rock favorites Dirty Words found out earlier this year, to their dismay, that their name had already been trademarked by another band, meaning that the band faces possible infringement playing as Dirty Words in the same territory (although last we checked, they are still performing as such). Similarly, the Camarillo alternative rock band Pile was recently forced to change its name to Subject 6 after learning that a teenage folk-rock band in Nashville released an album on iTunes under the name Pile, which effectively establishes a common law claim to it.
The intellectual property rules for bands are a little tricky. Interestingly, a band can have a copyright claim on its music as soon as it is published in fixed form, which includes CDs or the Internet, but a band name can’t be copyrighted. Copyright generally protects works of creative authorship, while a band is classified as a service, and therefore the only formal protection for a band name is a trademark. As with songs, trademarks can also be established through use, but that is limited. Real legal protection requires a formal application, as with a business, for the territory in which you wish to sell tickets or merchandise. OK, boring. The point is, it’s a fuzzy legal area in the digital age, when anyone, anywhere can post music for sale online in global territory.
But it is difficult to challenge registered trademarks, especially if backed by worldwide media companies. The Camarillo band The Situation, is preparing for the possibility that MTV’s trademark claim on the name “The Situation,” the midriff-exposing Italian-American fellow in the obnoxiously stupid reality show Jersey Shore, may potentially force the band to change its name as well. It’s all the more reason to do thorough research, even if you don’t expect to tour out of state. Who knows? Maybe you’ll catch a lucky break and go national. But that can’t happen if your name has already been legally claimed by someone else who did the homework. If you are in a band, it pays to check with BMI or ASCAP, performing rights organizations that keep complete rosters of registered names.
Fun fact: Ed Kowalczyk, the former front man of the popular mid-’90s alternative rock band Live, is apparently still making music and living in West Ventura County’s celebrity hideaway, Ojai. Kowalczyk’s debut solo album, the cover art for which was photographed in front of a picturesque pasture in Ojai, is called Alive, perhaps to remind us of the successful band he once led, or perhaps just to let us know that he is not dead. Alive is available for pre-order through his official website, where you can also pick up other fine Ed Kowalczyk products, such as original art prints by the songwriter, or a bag of Eddies Coffee, his own brand of organic fair trade espresso.
Ventura’s pop-punk/emo band Reluctant Hero, which only six months ago released its self-titled debut EP and was one of VCReporter’s bands to watch in our recent local music issue, is getting ready to play the Guinness World Records-certified World’s Largest Music Festival, known as Summerfest, a yearly event held for 11 days at the 75-acre Henry Maier Festival Park in Milwaukee, Wis., which will feature huge acts like Weezer, The Offspring, The Devil Wears Pradaand guitar legend Eric Clapton. With Summerfest attracting between 800,000 and 1 million people each year, Reluctant Hero can expect some major exposure.   

Sounding the 805 is Ventura County’s only biweekly local music column. If you have a tip, a suggestion, a complaint, some dish or just a kind word, shoot Chris Mastrovito an e-mail. 


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