Country Trio Lady A Sue Blues Artist Lady A, Ask Court to Affirm Their Trademark
Lady A, the country trio of Dave Haywood, Charles Kelley and Hillary Scott, have filed a lawsuit against Anita White, a blues singer who goes by the same name. According to Billboard, the suit alleges that White is "attempt[ing] to enforce purported trademarks rights in a mark that Plaintiffs have held for more than a decade," and asks the court to affirm the band's right to the name.
The trio Lady A officially changed their name from Lady Antebellum to the shorter nickname, dropping the slavery-tied word "antebellum" from their moniker, on June 11, amid national conversations about racism and inequality in the United States. As their suit — filed on Wednesday (July 8) in Nashville's U.S. District Court for the Middle District of Tennessee — explains, they have used the two names interchangeably as far back as 2006.
The band formerly known as Lady Antebellum applied to register the nickname that's now their official name with the U.S. Patent and Trademark Office in May of 2010, Billboard notes, and it was officially registered for entertainment purposes, "including live musical performances and streaming musical programming," on July 26, 2011, after no oppositions were filed. Additional applications for musical recordings and clothing purposes were also approved, again without opposition.
"Prior to 2020, White did not challenge, in any way, Plaintiffs’ open, obvious and widespread nationwide and international use of the Lady A mark as a source indicator for Plaintiffs’ recorded, downloadable and streaming music and videos, Plaintiffs’ live musical performances or Plaintiffs’ sale of souvenir merchandise,” the lawsuit notes. However, after Haywood, Kelley and Scott changed their band name, White was interviewed by Rolling Stone, expressing disgust not only that they moved forward without consulting her, but that they appropriated the name of a Black performer in what she says is a PR move geared toward showing solidarity with the Black community after the death of George Floyd.
While the lawsuit notes that White has both performed live and recorded music under the name Lady A since at least 2010, "[b]ased on information and belief,” she never used it as a trademark, or she applied for the trademark after Lady A the band did. White has been known as Lady A "for over 20 years," per her interview with Rolling Stone.
On June 15, both Lady As shared on social media that they had met via video chat to work through their issues. "Transparent, honest, and authentic conversations were had. We are excited to share we are moving forward with positive solutions and common ground. The hurt is turning into hope," Lady A the trio wrote of the meeting. Via email, White told Billboard, "We had [a] meeting today and we’re looking forward to a beneficial outcome for both parties. We’re making progress.”
Billboard reports that the trio and White had been discussing possibly writing and recording a song together, and planning for the group to promote her career; however, those plans fell apart. White objected to a draft agreement that the band's legal counsel prepared, saying that they were "trying to erase me," and that she "no longer trust[ed] them."
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White's lawyers contacted the trio's legal representatives on June 25 to say that they were reviewing the original draft agreement. On July 7, White's team delivered a new draft agreement including an "exorbitant monetary demand while maintaining the cooperation and collaboration obligations,” Lady A's suit explains. A statement from Haywood, Kelley and Scott reports that the singer Lady A's monetary demand is $10 million.
“Paired with White’s public statements, White’s demand for an exorbitant payment in exchange for continued coexistence, notwithstanding the previous absence of discussion of any payment (other than reimbursement of nominal attorneys’ fees), gives rise to imminent controversy, demonstrating a course of action from which a threat of suit could be inferred based on White’s charge of infringement,” the lawsuit says.
"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 explains in their statement. "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."
Lady A's statement continues:
It was a stirring in our hearts and reflection on our own blindspots that led us to announce a few weeks ago that we were dropping the word "Antebellum" from our name and moving forward using only the name so many of our fans already knew us by. When we learned that Ms. White had also been performing under the name Lady A, we had heartfelt discussions with her about how we can all come together and make something special and beautiful out of this moment. We never even entertained the idea that she shouldn’t also be able to use the name Lady A, and never will – today’s action doesn’t change that. Instead, we shared our stories, listened to each other, prayed and spent hours on the phone and text writing a song about this experience together. We felt we had been brought together for a reason and saw this as living out the calling that brought us to make this change in the first place. We're disappointed that we won’t be able to work together with Anita for that greater purpose. We’re still committed to educating ourselves, our children and doing our part to fight for the racial justice so desperately needed in our country and around the world. We’ve only taken the first small steps and will prioritize racial equality as a key pillar of the work of LadyAID, specifically leaning into supporting and empowering our youth. We hope Anita and the advisers she is now listening to will change their minds about their approach. We can do so much more together than in this dispute.
Lady A are not asking for money from White. Rather, they want a declaration from the court that they are using their name lawfully, and that they are not infringing on White's rights by continuing to use it.
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