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Who Owns The Future Of Future Ghosts? Part 2

Chicago's Future Ghosts Make a Statement

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Who Owns The Future Of Future Ghosts? Part 2

Chicago's Future Ghosts, who own the trademark on the name.

Black City Records
Part one of the story is here.

UPDATE: The Greensboro band has changed their name to Unifier and released their first album. Here's the review of Colorado.

In the wake of this week's cease and desist served against Greenboro's Future Ghosts by a Chicago band that shared their name, more information has come to light.

Daniel Bonfiglio of the Boston two-piece outfit Daniel Bon & The Future Ghosts reached out to let me know he too was a victim of this. His band, which has been releasing music under the name since 2007, where it has been well-documented on the web and includes music available on iTunes, have had most of our sites taken down (Facebook, Bandcamp and Reverb Nation) and are now getting pulled from iTunes as well as possibly other streaming sites.

Because these stories are never one-sided or clear cut, I offered Sean Whittaker of Chicago's Future Ghosts - the band behind the removal of the other bands affected - the opportunity to make an official statement to this site, breaking down the band's reasons as well as their version of the recent events.

I have posted it in its entirety.

Let the record show that this is the first actual statement from the Chicago band Future Ghosts. Not our management, not any friends in the press, but the band itself.

First off, I'd like to be clear that I am sympathetic to the other bands (plural, and that's very important to recognize) who have been affected by this, and to the fans of those bands (at least those who have not lowered themselves to the level of using hateful and bigoted speech in their protests), and to anyone concerned with the ethics of business and art (and here I am going to specify those truly concerned and willing to hear both sides of the story, not just the libelous claims of certain press entities).

There is a whole lot of talk about what I did. The talk is not perplexing. I get how things look when a sticky situation arises and based on a result, somebody looks like a victim and somebody looks like a bully. I have no delusions about who looks like the bully in this instance. I also know how people love to react to these things, and unfortunately, exaggerate them. The truth of the matter is, I did not do all of the things they say I did, and the things I did do, I did without malice.

This is what I did:

In 2005, I started recording and performing work under the name Future Ghosts. I had a band, we played out, we went on a small tour in 2006 (which included a show in Greensboro, NC [trust me, you weren't there]), we independently put out an EP. I also began developing a web presence for the band, and I did the necessary research to make sure that I wasn't using a name that any other band was using. My tools in the beginning were Myspace, Youtube, Wikipedia, Google search. I know it is hard to remember back that far, but Facebook was a much different thing back in 2005-2006, we didn't have Twitter, and use of social media all around was a more limited affair.

In 2007, I took this project to Chicago. I left my bandmates in my college town, turned the EP into a full-length, and continued recording and releasing music on my own under the name. I put the band together with new musicians, and we once again started playing shows. The project was something I believed in, and the monicker meant a lot to me.

THERE WAS NEVER A PERIOD OF INACTIVITY. That is the first libelous claim that I will dash. A simple look at our Bandcamp page would show anybody who cared to do any kind of real research that the claim of a six-year hiatus is an absurd lie. The band never “broke up” or “reformed”. The band is my project, and a number of musicians have come and gone over the years, making the live lineup a fluid entity of friends and contributors. Future Ghosts has been an active recording/performing entity every year since it was formed.

At a certain point, an artist popped up who had started using The Future Ghosts as the name of his backing band. While this irritated me, I wasn't particularly threatened by it. Over time, a few more Future Ghosts started popping up. As social media for artists started growing and becoming more diverse, I did my best to keep up with the sites I felt were relevant and helpful, however, I was beginning to have to share my web presence with other acts called Future Ghosts. One band in particular seemed to very quickly form and rabidly start developing their social media presence (a band who admits to having known of my project and continued to use the name anyway). This was not only irritating, but it was damaging. It became very difficult to promote my work and build my audience while there was another, newer Future Ghosts operating through all the same networks. Friends and fans would communicate with me, expressing confusion about just where we were from, and why the material online seemed so different. Even the media sites themselves showed confusion, posting the other bands' tour dates on my pages. I wanted to protect my work. I'd invested money and time into my project. I'd made and sold discs and t-shirts bearing the name Future Ghosts. I'd been performing live under the name for years.

I filed for a trademark to protect myself, my work, and my investments (not just money, but also time, and work, and passion). If another band was going to knowingly use the same name and build a reputation on it without consideration for my work, or any kind of communication with me, I figured I'd have to be prepared to fight for myself (which is exactly the nasty manifestation I'm presently dealing with). I was not about to let someone else tell me that I couldn't legally do something I'd already been doing for some time and cared a lot about. And they had time to reach out, but they didn't. And they chose not to protect themselves. Had they been serious enough about the name, or really wanted it badly enough to justify them trampling on my progress, they should have reached out, or figured something out. They did not.

After releasing our second full length, I wanted to do a promotional push to really get things going, because I felt the work had reached a new level. I got the disc played on the best rock station in Chicago. I'd done some self promotion via my social media pages, but as mentioned before, there are elements of that which had become limiting. Someone close to the band offered to do some promotional management for us. I said “Sure, that's great.” The issue of FG plurality came up. I admitted that it was incredibly annoying to me, but that I had legal rights to the name and that I'd planned on talking to someone who knew the law and could help me figure out the best way to proceed. Our guy told me he could help with that as well. I said “great”.

His way of helping was by alerting the social media sites that they were hosting the work of intellectual property rights violators (which is legally very true). The sites responded by removing the violators' content. This not only affected the other Future Ghosts, but also a band from L.A. called Future Ghost (with whom my band was also sometimes confused, but to a lesser degree).

This course of action was not my call, but it was the call of someone I trusted and authorized to do some management work on my behalf, and though it may seem drastic and speedy, the results are ultimately the ones I would have sought to reach anyway.

So, this is where it gets gross, confusing, and ugly. Neither band on the other side of this really had much of a chance to get their shit together before our camp pulled the rug. Well, at least the L.A. band didn't (the one thing in all of this for which I will admit to being truly regretful). The NC band actually had quite a long time to figure it out before any of this happened, but chose to ignore the situation. For the sake of keeping things tidy, we'll say this came as a surprise to everybody.

A few tweets and a libelous article later (I assume he means mine - RC), my band's Facebook page is being barraged with hundreds of posts, comments, and messages from enthusiastic “supporters” of the band from NC. You know, the kinds of things any band should be proud to have their fans post on another band's site. Things like “f**k you”, or calling me “gay”, “f**got”, “b**ch”, “turdfactory (ooh, actually, I like that one)”. One message I received seemed to loosely described a plot to murder me (?!). To be fair, only most of it was nonsensically offensive. This rash of hate speech and weird homophobia gave me no choice but to block and delete pretty much everything that was coming through. Also, the entire argument up until now has been one-sided and based on lies.

In spite of knowing I'm legally within my rights, I do regret that this whole thing couldn't have been dealt with more diplomatically. Art and music aren't about ownership rights or money, however the artist in business inevitably faces the complications of those things. It was never my intention to hurt anyone, or alienate the community. While I sympathize with the other parties, I do not apologize. I feel like the major theme of this criticism (once you get past this strange obsession with my sexuality) is courtesy. My question is why the burden of being courteous has fallen on me solely? Another band admitted to using a name they knew was already in use, trampled on my work, and lied to gain support when things didn't go their way. And I'm the only asshole in the equation?!!! I exercised a legal right, one far less dubious than is being presented and perceived. Like it or not, I'm passionate about my work and I believe it is worth fighting for. As far as the guys from NC are concerned, I fought fair, and they didn't. As for the guys in CA, I really wish it would have worked out differently. I'm keeping the name.

-Sean Whittaker

The Chicago band isn't necessarily a villain in this case, obviously, and while their actions appear to be heavy handed, I don't want to say that anything they did was outside their rights. It wasn't; they acted legally and within the reason they felt was necessary in order to protect themselves as a band. The real tragedy in this situation is the way in which social media seems to have progressed at a speed that is outpacing polite discourse, as well as the power of an intellectual property notice to erase another band's online identity almost immediately.

The Greensboro band (or the L.A. or Boston groups, for that matter) are not clear cut victims, either - at least not legally. They were using someone else's registered name. You couldn't get away with calling yourself the Sex Pistols today and cutting some records without facing legal repercussions, nor could you release a product and call your company Hasbro or Pepsico and expect to last long without being dragged into the courts.

Even if the other Future Ghosts were unaware of the existence of one who owned the name, it doesn't eliminate their guilt. They were guilty, and unfortunately they paid the price.

But effectively what has happened here is a turn of events that shows how ugly independent music can be and has become in the wake of intellectual property laws combined with social media realms that are still relatively new and sorting themselves out. The same online technology that allows everyone to have their say also allows others to silence that say with deadly precision in certain cases.

And for at least the foreseeable future, it's readily apparent that the Chicago band owns the future of Future Ghosts. But they also seem to be paying the price for grabbing what was legally theirs.

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