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Hunting down the right brand (or band) name

Choosing the right name for a business or product can be a difficult process.

If you are not careful then the simple use of a name can lead to unintended and severe problems. I regularly see letters of demand in which claims are made that traders should cease the use of the name they have chosen (and sometimes been using for a number of years) due to it infringing someone else’s prior rights or registration.

Of course the first step in developing any new branding is to make sure that it doesn’t infringe. If the name or brand is all clear then it can generally be protected/registered.

I mention that because one of my favourite bands of all time has recently been asked by animal protection group PETA (People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals) to change its name. The band Hunters & Collectors was formed in 1981 and has been using that name ever since.

The circumstances here are slightly different to the usual form of claim as PETA isn’t asserting any prior rights nor do they suggest that there is any confusion between Hunters & Collectors and other bands. Rather, they suggest that the band’s name should be changed to “discourage people from hunting animals” and not “to promote the killing of intelligent, sensitive, and defenceless animals”.

Their reasoning is that “your name may nevertheless make hunting seem appealing to your fans”. Part of the letter, which has been circulated by news sources, and which suggests that it is the perfect time to consider a change given the imminent start of hunting season in some States, reads:

“Horrifyingly, one in every four ducks shot is left to die slowly and painfully, sometimes of starvation or thirst, and many birds not considered “legal game” will be killed in the crossfire.

As your Adelaide reunion show is coming up, now is the perfect time for a band namelift. Might you consider “Hunters & Collectors of Antiques”, “Hunters & Collectors of Vinyl Records”, or even “Hunters & Collectors of Beer Cans” as possible replacements? You could even enlist the help of your fans to crowdsource the holy grail of names on social media.

Do you see what we see? By agreeing to change your name, you would help raise awareness of the cruelty inherent in hunting waterbirds and give ducks a fighting chance.”

While this is all a bit of fun and it is clear that PETA is clearly using the request as a cheap publicity stunt (which I realise we are giving more air time to), that is not always the case.

Choosing (and using) the wrong name can have devastating consequences for a business or product. Often damages or payment of profits achieved may be ordered on top of the cost and/or the embarrassment of having to rebrand and change the name which may (by the time the demand is received) have gained traction or a reputation in the market.

That can be prevented by obtaining advice at an early stage (preferably before going to print or securing domain or company names – and certainly before launch) to make sure that the new name or brand does not infringe and may be protected.

It also leaves me wondering who may be next on PETA’s hit list.

Perhaps the following acts should be reconsidering their position:

  • Fine Young Cannibals (formed 1984) – although of less concern for animal rights.
  • Smashing Pumpkins (formed 1988) – a concern for all vegans.
  • Killing Heidi (formed 1996) – why hasn’t Sweden done something about that already?
  • Hunters (Polish heavy metal band formed 1985) – should really be PETA’s target (at least Hunters & Collectors also have a second option).
  • The Killers (formed 2001) – also covers all bases

Let me know if you think others should also be concerned.

"The content of this publication is for reference purposes only. It is current at the date of publication. This content does not constitute legal advice and should not be relied upon as such. Legal advice about your specific circumstances should always be obtained before taking any action based on this publication."