Trademarking Your Label Name

Learn the Basic Rules for Copyrighting Trade Names

Man in recording studio
Hal Bergman Photography/Moment/Getty Images

If your record label is a registered business, then your label name is your "trade name". According to the Small Business Administration, a trade name is the official name under which a company does business. It's also referred to as a DBA, or "doing business as" name, fictitious name, or assumed name. 

But when you're operating a business that offers a similar service to competitors, the rules for copyrighting that trade name might surprise you.

In short, you can't.

The Deal With Trade Names

Trade names are not officially protected under copyright law, so technically speaking, someone could start a record label using the same name. As the SBA puts it, "a trade name does not afford any brand protection or provide you with unlimited rights for the use of that name".

That might sound a little scary, but most record labels will not meet the requirements for qualifying for a trademark. A trademark is a branding of a service or product that you can prove to be unique from what other companies are offering. There is very little room to do that as a record label; unless you've invented a new recording technique or find a different way for pressing physical album copies that no one has ever used before, your record label isn't doing anything unique.

But just because you probably won't be able to trademark your record label name doesn't mean there aren't things you can do to keep your label branding strong.

Obviously, you'll have a website with a domain name that matches (as closely as possible) your label name but it might be worth buying a few domain names that are really close, like the .net or .org versions.

Build a Unique Brand

Have a label logo and a distinct set of catalog numbers for your products.

If you are running an indie label, always promote your label along with your new releases. Create social media accounts with your unique logo and personality or voice, and get your artists to be brand ambassadors who represent the face of your label. 

Make building your record label's identity a priority in case someone else does come along and think up the same name, or, tries to infringe on your success by choosing a similar name. The more established you are, the less likely someone is to run with the idea of ripping off your name. That may sound counter-intuitive; after all, your established label name may open some doors for a pretender, but the jig would be up almost instantly. Anyone serious about establishing their own business will realize that they are much better off building their own label brand.

If You're Not Sure, Seek Help 

Of course, you should seek advice from a legal professional in any business matters where you're not sure of the law, or if you think someone is trying to steal your intellectual property or ideas. Ideally, your legal expert is someone who's familiar with the recording industry, and who knows the latest rules and regulations. 

The information provided here is general in nature and is not intended to take the place of legal advice. Further, trademark laws and application processes are country specific. The situations described use US law as a foundation.

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