‘Lady A’ Files Trademark Countersuit Against Nashville Trio

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Anita White, the artist who goes by “Lady A,” filed a countersuit for trademark infringement on Tuesday against the Nashville trio formerly known as Lady Antebellum.

Lady Antebellum changed their name to “Lady A” in June, as the connotations of the band’s original name become untenable amid the George Floyd protests. But that created an issue for White, a Black woman who has been performing under that stage name since the early 1990s.

At first, it appeared that White and the trio would come to an agreement to share the use of the name. But the talks broke down, as the trio said that White had demanded a $10 million payment.

The trio filed a federal suit in Tennessee in early July seeking a declaration that they are entitled to use the name. The band had filed a trademark for “Lady A” in 2010, and received it in 2011, and the nickname had been used in merchandise and promotions before then.

White has now filed her own suit in Seattle, claiming a common law right to the “Lady A” trademark based on decades of performing under that name. The suit contends that the Nashville band’s use of the name will result in brand confusion, and states claims of trademark infringement and unfair competition.

“The effect of the name change on Ms. White’s ability to distinguish her music in the marketplace was overwhelming,” the suit contends. “Internet and social media searches for ‘Lady A,’ which had readily returned results for her music, were now dominated by references to Lady Antebellum. Ms. White’s Lady A brand had been usurped and set on the path to erasure.”

The suit offers a little more detail about how the negotiations collapsed. According to White, the trio’s management company reached out quickly after the name change was announced and set up a video call. On the call, the trio discussed promoting White’s work, or collaborating on a song. Though she says they did not make a deal, soon afterward the trio sent her a draft agreement.

Under the draft agreement, White would not have received any compensation. She would get up to $10,000 to reimburse her for legal fees — though she was working with pro bono counsel — and the trio would make “best efforts” to promote her career.

White came to feel that the agreement was not in her interests, and retained the firm of Cooley LLP, which was also working pro bono. Cooley responded to the trio with a draft settlement on July 6, which is apparently where the $10 million demand came in, though that is not specified in the complaint.

Two days later, the trio filed its declaratory relief action in Nashville. In an interview with Vulture, White said that the trio’s conduct exemplified “another white person trying to take something from a Black person, even though they say they’re trying to help.”

“If you want to be an advocate or an ally, you help those who you’re oppressing,” she said. “And that might require you to give up something because I am not going to be erased.”

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