On changing its name to Lady A, Lady Antebellum’s latest attempt to do so has hit a real bum note.
The country trio filed a lawsuit on Wednesday in Nashville, Tennessee, in order get the court to distinguish its rights to the name “Lady A,” which it claims has been a band trademark for more than 10 years.
Here comes the problem. 61-year-old blues singer Anita White wasn’t too pleased when she learned about the country band’s proposed name change last month. White has been performing as “Lady A” for more than two decades.
Lady Antebellum announced that it would no longer include “antebellum” in its name because of the word is commonly used to refer to the slave-holding South before the Civil War.
The name change was made during the ongoing discussion about racial inequality after the May 25 police killing of George Floyd. in Minneapolis. But the name game hasn’t gone as easily as the band no doubt hoped.
One day after the group announced its change, White expressed shock that she might be losing her good name.
“They’re using the name because of a Black Lives Matter incident that, for them, is just a moment in time,” White told Rolling Stone. “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.”
Despite that rocky start, the two sides did attempt an amicable agreement a few days after the initial announcement. But conversations have since broken down between the two musical camps. According to the band’s lawsuit, White’s lawyers demanded a $10 million payment for the rights to the Lady A name.
“Today we are sad to share that our sincere hope to join together with Anita White in unity and common purpose has ended,” the band said in a statement. “She and her team have demanded a $10 million payment, so reluctantly we have come to the conclusion that we need to ask a court to affirm our right to continue to use the name Lady A, a trademark we have held for many years.”
The band is not asking for any money, just a court declaration that it lawfully holds the Lady A trademark and that it does not infringe on any rights White may have under state or federal law.
San Diego-based trademark attorney T.C. Johnston said that even if White never officially applied for a trademark for the “Lady A” name, she still has “priority of use if there even is a likelihood of confusion between a country band and a blues singer from the northwest.”
Los Angeles-based attorney Jane Shay Wald said that a person doesn’t have to register a trademark to have one. “A trademark comes after the fact,” she said. “It’s like a birth certificate ― you don’t get one unless you’re born.”
Still, since Lady Antebellum claims it has had a registered trademark for the Lady A name for a decade, it’s possible that a court might restrict White’s use of the moniker to places where she’s established herself, such as the Pacific Northwest.
Johnston speculated that the two sides could still work out an agreement. “If there isn’t a likelihood of confusion, the two names can coexist,” he said.