Will The Real Lady A Please Stand Up?

By Jeffrey M. Kaden

The country trio Lady A, formerly (and far better) known as Lady Antebellum, recently filed a trademark lawsuit in federal court against blues singer Anita White, who goes by the name Lady A. The trio is seeking a legal declaration that their use of the name Lady A does not violate the claimed TM rights of Ms. White.

The lawsuit was filed in U.S. District Court for the Middle District of Tennessee (located in the trio’s home turf of Nashville) and, according to the lawsuit papers, arises from White’s apparent “attempt to enforce purported trademark rights in a mark that [the trio] have held for more than a decade.”

The lawsuit also alleges that after extensive settlement discussions, presumably based on some type of coexistence arrangement, the attorneys for White “delivered a draft settlement agreement that included an exorbitant monetary demand.” A statement issued by the trio stated that the amount being sought by White in order to settle the dispute is $10 million.

By way of background, back in early June, in order to ostensibly be more inclusive, the country trio announced that it was no longer going to use the name Antebellum in view of the Black Lives Matter movement. The Antebellum name had apparently been heavily criticized for conveying the idea of a romanticized pre-Civil War American South. The name change by the trio was promoted heavily on social media and well known musical distribution platforms such as Spotify and Apple Music.

White, who says she has been performing under the name Lady A for more than two decades, said that she was caught completely off-guard when she heard about the trio’s name change to Lady A. “This is my life. Lady A is my brand, I’ve used it for over 20 years, and I’m proud of what I’ve done…. They’re using the name because of a Black Lives Matter incident that, for them, is just a moment in time…. It shouldn’t have taken George Floyd to die for them to realize that their name had a slave reference to it.”

In the lawsuit Complaint, the country trio asserts that they have used the names Lady Antebellum and Lady A interchangeably since at least 2006-2007, although the name Lady Antebellum was clearly the name that virtually everyone identified with the trio.

Significantly, back in 2010, the trio, under the company name Lady A Entertainment LLC, applied to the U.S. Trademark Office in order to federally register the name Lady A for entertainment purposes, including live musical performances and streaming musical programming. No opposition to the application was ever filed by any person or entity, including White. On July 26, 2011, the trio’s TM application for Lady A was formally registered by the TM Office. Thereafter, additional TM applications to register the Lady A name for musical recordings and clothing were also granted to the trio.

All said and done, the lawsuit and the dispute surrounding it revolves around one major issue– who is first to use the Lady A name? Even though White apparently does not have her own federal TM registration for Lady A, she still has common law trademark rights so long as she can prove that she has been using the name in commerce for a number of years. And if she is in fact the first to use the Lady A name in commerce, that may well give White the legal upper hand over the country trio. Stay tuned.