When a band starts out, it's more often than not a handful of good friends making music on a local scale. For the most part, they play out on the local scene, maybe do a few tours and make a record or two, and move on to other things. This is the general life cycle for a lot of bands in most scenes worldwide.
But in some cases, the bands start to get bigger, and when they start to get notice on a more national scale, they realize that sometimes they share the same name as other bands, and something needs to be sorted out. In general, some sort of amicable agreement is reached; a band adds some sort of wording to their name to separate them from the other (The Verve was originally called Verve, The Mission UK and Charlatans UK were once just the Mission and the Charlatans, Dinosaur became Dinosaur Jr, and the list goes on).
Some bands just drop the name and move on when one gets big. There have been many bands named Nirvana. There have been many bands named Skid Row. And Nirvana even called themselves Skid Row for a while in their very early days. And in the era of the interwebs, most bands are aware that other bands - sometimes a few other bands, even - share their names, and the situation may need to be addressed eventually. But what's just taken place with Greensboro's Future Ghosts just makes the whole thing seem really unsavory.
As they're preparing to release their LP Colorado on February 12, 2013 on indie labels Autumn + Colour Records and Round Kid Records, the band was hit with a cease and desist letter from a band out of Chicago sharing the same, which resulted in the removal of the all band’s social media sites (Facebook, Reverbnation, Bandcamp, etc.), virtually eliminating their web presence as they gear up to make their big debut.
The Chicago band trademarked the name in 2012, despite the fact that they had not been active since 2006 at the time (although have since reformed for a new record), and despite the fact that the Greensboro band had released the EP Oh, Great City in 2011.
It's not that it happened; this sort of thing (bands being forced to deal with having the same names) takes place in the music world all the time. It's how it happened, and the way it was handled, that makes the whole thing feel icky.
A statement from the Greensboro band reads:
We are, and have been aware that we shared a name with other bands. Most bands do, at one point or another, and usually everyone is pretty relaxed about it. We were just glad that when we got started we only shared it with two or three others. We always knew the possibility was there that one of them would take off and we'd be the ones who had to change our name, but for it to happen like this feels like betrayal. Not only did the other band make no attempt to work it out with us before asking us to cease and desist, they aggressively pursued the purging of our web presence at the same time. It's one thing to make a formal request and give someone a chance to either comply or respond, but we were just left scrambling in the few hours we had to make sure people knew what was going on before all the sites went down.
In the old days, things proceeded more slowly; bands could carry the same name for years with no worries, and names could die out and be picked up as needed. A friend was in a band called Social Chaos; there is now a big hardcore band rolling out of Brazil with the same name (as well as a band in Chesapeake, VA). It doesn't seem like such a big deal, but with the proper paperwork, it seems that either the obscure high school band or the just as obscure Virginia band that is currently seeking a drummer could pull the plug on Brazil's Social Chaos and leave them scrambling to find a way to recover from a catastrophic blow.
Autumn + Colour Records, one of the two labels that releasing the Colorado LP issued their own statement:
It's a travesty when a band acts like little children, instead of working out an issue like adults. In this particular situation there should have been more dialog and notice before filing suit. This band from Chicago should be ashamed of their actions. Please take this as an example of what not to do when faced with a trademark infringement.
And while the Greensboro band is dealing with all the repercussions, the Chicago band is also left looking like a bunch of vindictive children. Just as the internet era allowed these bands to be aware of each other's existence from an early stage, it also afforded the opportunity to discuss the situation before any sort of legal action.
As Dan Sassone, founder of Round Kid Records says, “What is most shocking to me is that the Chicago Future Ghosts did not even seek advice from their attorney before taking action. They had their "agent" write and send the cease and desist letter and the band themselves, along with their "agent," have been maliciously having the social media sites remove Greensboro’s Future Ghosts pages. The fact that this is not even coming from an attorney is extremely unprofessional and juvenile.”
Like a bunch of kids breaking into their house for a wild weekend party while they're out of town, the Greensboro band is left cleaning up the mess, an expensive mess that could result in massive legal bills and what could amount to crippling setbacks to their musical careers (for the time being, they've set up this site to keep fans informed on their situation). And the Chicago band has set a frightening precedent. It suggests that you should simply trademark every band name you can think of just in case you may want to use it later, and says that the scene isn't about unity or music, but rather about being fast on the draw and learning how to apply legal strangleholds on your fellow musicians.