If you've gone to the trouble of cultivating a specific logo or brand for your music, there are a number of benefits to "making it official" by getting it trademarked. Besides just establishing a potential source of revenue, a trademark can provide you with certain legal protections down the road.
Guest post by Bobby Owsinski of Music 3.0
If you’ve established your logo or a unique look to your music brand, it can be quite beneficial to have it trademarked. The reason is that not only can it provide an additional income stream at some point, but it can also provide some protection as well. Here’s an excerpt from the 2nd edition of my Social Media Promotion For Musicians book that provides some background and tips.
What’s A Trademark?
First, let’s look at exactly what a trademark is.
A Trademark is any unique symbol, design, mark or words that distinguishes your product from others in the marketplace.
An example of a trademark could be the Nike swoosh, the design of the Coke bottle, or the McDonald’s golden arches. These are all trademarks because you identify the design with their product without ever considering a similar product. The mark separates the brand from the competition around it.
How Having A Trademark Can Be Beneficial
Here’s why having a “mark” can be important. Let’s say your band name is “Shooting Star” and you’re based in Birmingham, Alabama. You begin to play a club circuit that leads you from Florida to Nashville and you’re becoming pretty popular. If you’ve not trademarked the name “Shooting Star,” there’s nothing to prevent another band from taking the same name and calling up that club in Tallahassee you just played at a few weeks ago and booking a gig using the same name without telling the club they’re a different Shooting Star. You may have used the name first, but unless it’s trademarked, you have no legal recourse.
Another reason owning your trademark can be important is when you’re signed to a record label. If at some point you have a falling out, there’s no reason why the label can’t put out an album of your outtakes to try to make some money without your knowledge (it’s been done plenty of times before). If you owned your trademark however, they’d be legally forced to come to you to license the logo (the trademark) before they could either sell or promote the album.
Yet another reason is merch. If you’ve become popular enough that merch emblazoned with your name has some value to it, there’s nothing to stop a street vendor from running off a hundred T-shirts and selling them outside your gig before your fans even get inside the door to look at your official merch. They may still do it if you own your trademark, but at least you would have a legal recourse to have them cease and desist from selling them. If you don’t own your trademark, you may be out of luck.
Acquiring A Mark
There are two ways to acquire a trademark; the cheap and easy way, and the expensive way. As with most things in life, you get what you pay for.
The easy way is to just start use the ™ trademark symbol on your branding. This is called a “common law” trademark, and all that’s required is that you just begin using it before anyone else, as in the case of the band name. The problems with this are that you must continually use the mark without any breaks or the mark offers you little protection. Your protection also can be fairly limited even with a continuos mark and may even be restricted to a certain location. Plus, you’re not able to register for an international trademark.
The second way requires an official registration with the US Patent and Trademark Office (uspto.gov) and is indicated with an R in a circle like this – ®. It costs anywhere from $275 to $325, but is complicated enough that you probably want an attorney to submit the registration for you in order to ensure that you’re properly protected. The value of a registered trademark is that it’s the ultimate protection for your mark, and it then allows you to apply for a trademark in other countries as well.
Trademarks can be a complex area of the law where you definitely should have advice from an attorney, but it will give you the optimum protection and control that could turn into an income stream somewhere down the road.
You can read more from Social Media Promotion For Musicians and my other books on the excerpt section of bobbyowsinski.com.