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The last thing you want is to release your first album or EP only to find that another band or artist has been using the same name as you in another part of the world.

Even worse, if the other artist is gaining traction earlier than you, you'll have to put in extra work to gain recognition for your music and brand.

Changing your name too late can be costly. Not only will you have to change your name and design a new logo, but if you've already released singles, records, and merchandise, you'll have to re-release these with your new brand name, and pay any fees associated with the redistribution of your music.

Do you copyright a band name or trademark it?

When it comes to copyright vs. trademark, it's easy to get confused.

While these terms seem interchangeable, they actually cover different types of intellectual property protection.

According to the United States Patent and Trademark Office (USPTO), trademarks protects "word, name, symbol, device, or any combination, used or intended to be used to identify and distinguish the goods/services of one seller or provider from those of others, and to indicate the source of the goods/services."

A copyright, however, protects literary, dramatic, musical, artistic, and certain other intellectual works.

For musicians, this means that you will need to copyright your songs to protect them, but for band or artist names, you'll need to trademark them for protection.

DIY vs. seeking professional help

While copyright is a more straightforward process, trademark can be more complex, so I'd recommend hiring a music attorney or using an online trademark registration service like the one offered by LegalZoom (affiliate link) to make sure you get this right the first time, as a mistake in trademark registration can be expensive to fix.

It's not just me, the USPTO recommends this too.

However, if you want to do it yourself, or wish to be more informed about the process, here are the steps to trademark a band name.

1. Check if your band name is taken and trademarked

The first step in trademarking your band name is to check to see if your band name is actually taken.

To do this, you can quickly search Google your proposed band names to see if any social media profiles show up.

You can also use this site to check the internet for band names.

If your band name isn't taken yet, awesome! However, you aren't done yet.

Head over to the USPTO website and check for registered or pending trademarks.

If you don't find anything that resembles your band name, you're in the clear!

Be sure to check for similar names and misspellings. Choosing a name that's too close to someone else's can cause problems.

To avoid costly trademark conflicts before you apply, it's important that you conduct a proper trademark search. If you aren't comfortable doing this on your own, you can have an attorney conduct the trademark search for you, or use an online service like LegalZoom for your trademark search.

2. Consider who will own the trademark

It's important to be prepared for the worst.

What if a band member leaves? Who owns the trademark then?

It may be a good idea to set up your band as a business entity so that you can give ownership of the band name to the company rather than an individual. That way, band members can come and go without any legal difficulties getting in the way.

3. Register your trademark - fill out the form

The USPTO allows you to easily submit your application online using the Trademark Electronic Application System (TEAS), which you can access through the their website.

There are three different types of TEAS applications:

  • TEAS Plus
  • TEAS Reduced Fee
  • TEAS Regular

The USPTO has put together this video to explain the differences:

4. Pay the filing fees

Once you've filled out the appropriate form, simply pay the required filing fee.

The filing fees are as follows (as of December 2016):

  • TEAS Plus: $225
  • TEAS Reduced Fee: $275
  • TEAS Regular: $325

While it's possible to go through the trademark process on your own, it is easy to make mistakes. As mentioned above, I highly recommend consulting a music industry attorney or using an online service like LegalZoom (affiliate link) for trademark registration to ensure things are done correctly.

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