Whether you’re a solo artist or part of a band, having a clear identity is important. So how can you ensure you retain your act’s individuality by trademarking your name?
Trademarking your artist name as a singer or musician is worth considering. Especially if you’re going places in the industry. It gives you the exclusive right to create, record and release music in that name. This protects your brand and prevents duplicates.
In this article, we explain the pros and cons. Along with the process, legalities and costs associated.
Trademarking your artist name as a singer or musician
The music industry is a business. As such, if you’re ‘trading’ in the music industry, you may decide to register the right to use your business name. This protects your brand, which is especially useful if another singer comes along and tries to steal your thunder.
Or if someone pretends to be you. It means you also have the right to your name on social media and on websites – meaning you can campaign to have any duplicates that arise, shut down. If you do go ahead, you’ll be able to use the ® symbol next to your name to show that it’s trademarked.
Trademarking is similar to copyright in that it’s about rights. But trademarks must be registered. Whereas copyright is automatically granted to the creator or owner of an original piece of work. Copyright protects artistic works, whereas trademarking applies to all industries.
And copyright lasts a lifetime whether or not the creator is still active in that field. However, the registered owner of a trademark must continue to use the name and brand, to be eligible to maintain registration.
Do you need to trademark your artist name?
No. It is not compulsory to do so and many artists never do so. However, if you’re serious about a recording career and have your sights set on big success in the music industry, it may be a good idea. If you don’t and someone else comes along after you and trademarks the same name as yours, they may be able to stop you using your name to make music.
If you’ve already had thousands of downloads and garnered hundreds of followers on each social media channel, this is a problem. You may be made to stop using your name and fans will struggle to find you.
So if you do decide to trademark your name, the sooner you do it the better. Depending on your name a duplicate scenario may be unlikely though. We’ll take a look at who should and shouldn’t be trademarking their name, shortly.
Can two music artists have the same name?
Yes. There’s nothing to stop this. But therein lies the problem. Imagine plugging away for years, building up and reputation and following, only to find another musician arrives on the scene with the same name. This would confuse your fans and may result in them being redirected to the other musician’s tracks and ticket sales. Worse still, if they act inappropriately, or offend influential people in the music industry, you may be tarred with the bad reputation too.
You may have heard about actors having to change their name because someone else was already registered with the same one. This is because the British actors union, Equity, only allows one registration by each name. So if yours is already taken by a living member, you must create a new one to join.
But this is not the case for the Musicians’ Union, as not all members are working in the same field or genre. It doesn’t matter if you, as a rock singer, have the same name as a cellist for example.
Should an artist trademark their name?
If you’re considering trademarking your name, here are the factors to take into account when making the decision.
- Are you planning a high profile career by yourself? If, for example, you gig on a part-time basis and teach music the rest of the time, it may not be worth the hassle and outlay.
- Are you a solo artist, or part of a band? If you’re part of a group, is it worth trademarking your name as an individual? Similarly, if your band is taking off, you should think about trademarking the band.
- Can you afford it? There will be fees involved, which we’ll explain further into the article.
- How unique is your name? If you have a super unusual name and self-manage a relatively low profile career, it’s probably not necessary.
- Do you sell merch, have a domain name, and big streaming/album sales? If so, you need to protect your overall brand, of which name is a part. So a trademark is sensible.
- What’s your role? If you’re a bassist in a band or a session guitarist, it may not be relevant to trademark your own name. Not all working musicians operate as a business brand in the way a solo artist or pop band would do.
Trademark database – how to check if a business name is trademarked
Before you can trademark your name, check if it’s already taken. The UK government website has a search tool for trademarks. As well as checking here, it’s worth researching whether any other – non-trademarked – artists are operating in your name. They may not have a copyright. But if they’re already out there and prolific in music, it may be worth changing your name to avoid confusion. When searching, also check similar spellings to yours (ie. Katy and Katie, Girls and Girlz).
Take a look and see if your favourite artist and peer musicians are on the database.
How do you come up with an artist name?
There are a number of ways to do this, which we cover in this article.
Don’t pick a name hastily. This is a key part of your artist branding and should be just right. It’s not wise to change your name once you’ve started to build momentum. So choose well and get it right the first time. Some artists trademark more than one name, but each name must be proven to be in use.
Beyonce has trademarked not only her artist name, but also her nicknames Yonce and Beyhive. Her husband owns the trademarks, Shawn Carter and Jay-Z. Unless you’re a big star like this musical power couple, it’s unlikely you’ll use more than one name.
How to trademark a name
If you’ve decided a trademark is relevant to you, or you’re thinking about it, we’ll explain how to do it.
Firstly, be aware that the rules vary in different locations. Those who are not UK based will need to refer to the guidelines within their region. Singers and musicians in the USA may want to look into Pundit Your Music and Artist Federal Trademarks. Once you have a UK trademark, you can apply to register it internationally too.
It still won’t apply to every single country. But it will apply to a large majority, those who have signed up to something called The Madrid Protocol. This is an agreement between member countries, to honour international trademarks.
However, before you can do this, you must apply in the UK or your home country.
Trademark artist name – UK procedure
If you’ve chosen a name and are ready to trademark, you’ll need to go to ‘how to register a trademark’ on the UK government’s website. First, you’ll be asked to check if your name qualifies and work out which classes you wish to apply in. As business and individuals trademark all sorts of brands and products, there are various categories. Should you choose the wrong ones, your trademark will be useless.
The website has a tool to help you choose. And music is split into many categories, including publishing, recording, printed music, live music and more. Many of the elements relevant to a singer and performing musician will fall under category 41.
But do not simply assume this is the case for you. You must check and double-check. If in doubt, it may be worth enlisting the help of a music lawyer. Or if you work with a studio, manager or label they should be able to advise.
Then, once you apply, the process takes four months. You cannot change your trademark once you’ve applied. Once it’s been accepted you have the option to make an international application.
How much does it cost to trademark an artist name?
A single trademark with one class costs £170 for a decade. Any additional classes are an extra £50. If you hire a music lawyer to advise and assist, you will have to pay their fees on top. And these will be significantly more expensive.
The cost of international trademarking depends on which option you choose. There are price brackets according to how many countries you want the agreement to cover. Additionally, there’s a £40 handling fee for the international application. An international mark lasts the same duration as a national one and can be renewed at the same time once this period has passed.
We’ve talked about names, but as a musician, particularly a songwriter, should you trademark your music? Many artists think so. In fact, Taylor Swift has gone as far as trademarking many phrases and lines from her songs. But she’s also been knocked back on a few, including Party Like It’s 1989, Swiftmas and This Sick Beat.
This was because she couldn’t prove she was already actively using them. Swift has also been known to stop fans selling their homemade Taylor merch on Etsy. This is because she’s protected every aspect of her brand under trademark law.
While you can attempt to trademark pretty much anything, the governing bodies are quick to stop people hoarding them. It’s, for this reason, you must prove you’re using whatever it is already. So if you’ve released a song, yes, you can trademark elements of it, like lyrics. But you can’t trademark a song title on the off chance you might one day record it. And if you’ve written an original song, you own the copyright anyway.
Can you trademark a sound?
Yes, but you couldn’t always trademark a sound. This is a relatively new change in the rules. Nowadays, sounds are used in branding, as an audio logo. So they need to be trademarked in the same way as names and products. It’s unlikely this will apply to you as a singer or musician.
Having read through all this information it’s probably fairly clear to you whether you should trademark your name or not. If it’s not clear to you whether it would be useful, you could ask another professional for guidance. You’ll also need to decide whether you go the extra mile and opt for an international one too. But as you can’t apply for the same trademark twice, do make sure your application is correct and thorough. The classes are the trickiest element, so take advice if you’re unsure.
- How long does a trademark last?
In the UK registration will last for ten years. After that, you can register again. But you’ll need to still be active in the field. In this sense, it’s different to copyright, or re-registering a domain name.
- Are stage names legal?
It’s perfectly legal to use an alternative, made-up name as a performer. However, this is not your legal name, unless you change it by deed poll. So your official documents (including your passport), insurance policies, tax accounts and bank accounts will need to stay in your birth name.
- Should I use my real name for music?
It’s entirely up to you. Many do, but many don’t. It may depend on your genre too – grime artists and rappers almost always use a pseudonym. Some singers just use their first name (like Adele, Dua Lipa and Mabel) or change their surname (Katy Hudson, known as Katy Perry), keeping their first name.
Are you thinking of trademarking your artist name as a singer or musician? Maybe you’ve done it already. Let us know which name you’ve picked and how it’s impacted your career, in the comments below.