You have a band. You have some shows. Now, there's some legal stuff you should know before you start sampling that '70s breakbeat or selling your sweet-ass baby-Ts. Before we begin, know this: I am a lawyer. But the following is not to be construed as legal advice; i.e., you can't sue us for errant or erroneous legal advice. (Like I said, I am a lawyer--I'm just not your lawyer.) These are some common questions you may confront, followed by suggestions as to what direction you might want to go. IF YOU NEED REAL LEGAL ADVICE, HIRE A LAWYER. OK. Let's begin:Q: I got a band named Purgator. Some Louisiana barbershop quartet with the same name is suing us for copyright infringement. Can they do that?
A: Hell, no. You can't copyright a name. However, you may have a problem if the name is a servicemark (identifies with a service, like performing live) or trademark (used on goods like T-shirts). If Louisiana Purgator has not used the band name across state lines, then the quartet won't be allowed to register it in the U.S. Patent and Trademark Office. But if Oregon Purgator plays over in Washington, then go ahead and seek registration (it's not guaranteed) with the USPTO. Make sure that someone else hasn't registered it by searching on www.uspto.gov, then follow the directions on the USPTO site as to how to apply.
Q: We want to do our awesome salsa version of "Let's Get It On" at a club tonight. Do we have to get anyone's permission to play it?
A: Yes. But it is possible that the club belongs to one of the organizations that licenses the right to perform songs, such as ASCAP, BMI or SEASAC, and has already paid for the license. If the club owner tells you that it is your responsibility to get the license, don't be fooled--it's every participant's responsibility, including the club's. You can find out more about licensing at www.ascap.com, www.bmi.com and wwwwww.loc.gov/copyright.
Q: What happens to our name and music if Purgator breaks up?
A: The music belongs to the band, and so does the name. If people end up suing each other in court after the breakup, the court will consider a few things. Who took creative control of the band? How long did they exercise that control? Who was in the band when the public first started to identify it by name? If you think you might not like the answers to these questions (or the money you'll spend in legal fees), discuss these things with all band members and sign a contract detailing who will own the name and music, and the percentage of ownership.
But don't worry. We're sure Purgator will be together forever.