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The artists formerly known as Lady Antebellum tested the court of public opinion this week when, after changing their name to Lady A in a gesture of support to the Black Lives Matter movement, news broke that they were suing a blues singer, Anita White, who has been using the stage name Lady A for years. …
The artists formerly known as Lady Antebellum tested the court of public opinion this week when, after changing their name to Lady A in a gesture of support to the Black Lives Matter movement, news broke that they were suing a blues singer, Anita White, who has been using the stage name Lady A for years.
We asked Kurt Dahl, an entertainment lawyer and partner at Vancouver’s Murphy & Company firm — who also plays drums and blogs about the intersection of the two at LawyerDrummer.com — to take us inside the case.
“I see a fair amount of artist name disputes come across my desk, but they rarely go to trial,” Dahl said. “There needs to be an incredible amount of money at stake in order for these matters to approach litigation, which of course there is here. Mostly, it’s a great deal of threatening legal action rather than taking it.
“Lady Antebellum really made a series of missteps here,” Dahl claimed. “In our current times, I cannot think of a worse plan from a p.r. perspective.”
But, he noted that, contrary to a cursory read of the headlines around the case, the band is not suing White to prevent her from using the “Lady A” moniker, nor are they seeking a monetary amount, but are attempting to ensure that they themselves won’t be sued for using the handle going forward as the two artists adjust to “sharing” the name.
Dahl also said that the $10 million asked for by White in return for her cooperation is “high, given the circumstances.” (White says that she intends to donate half the sum to various charities.)
A crucial contention of the band’s suit is that they filed a trademark application for the “Lady A” nickname in 2010 and received no opposition. But while the proposed trademark would have been published by the US Patent and Trademark Office, and White would have had the opportunity to object, Dahl says it’s unlikely she even knew such a thing was happening.
The band’s suit does note that White was using Lady A since as early as 2010, but adds that “based on information and belief,” White has never trademarked the name.
“She would not have received a notification unless she had signed up for them or had previously filed for that trademark,” Dahl said. “The onus would have been on her to file an objection [and] I highly doubt that the band would have reached out to her.”
He continued, “My guess is that the band and their team did some searching at that time, found the existing Lady A, and decided she wasn’t big enough to pose a threat. By ‘big enough,’ I mean her reach as an artist in terms of worldwide sales, touring, etc. The alternative is that the band (and their manager and trademark lawyer) couldn’t find her via Google search, which is hard to believe. Bottom line: they got horrible legal advice somewhere along the way. They should have called me.”
Despite a June 15 Instagram post that proclaimed the band had “connected privately with the artist Lady A” for “transparent, honest, and authentic conversations,” things have definitely taken a turn.
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Today, we connected privately with the artist Lady A. Transparent, honest, and authentic conversations were had. We are excited to share we are moving forward with positive solutions and common ground. The hurt is turning into hope. More to come. #LadyABluesSoulFunkGospelArtist #TheTruthIsLoud @ladya_bluesdiva @dexter_allen_entertainment @oliveriiijohn
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“This is my life. Lady A is my brand, I’ve used it for over 20 years, and I’m proud of what I’ve done,” White told Rolling Stone this week. “This is too much now. They’re using the name because of a Black Lives Matter incident that, for them, is just a moment in time. If it mattered, it would have mattered to them before. It shouldn’t have taken George Floyd to die for them to realize that their name had a slave reference to it.
“It’s an opportunity for them to pretend they’re not racist or pretend this means something to them. If it did, they would’ve done some research.”