The National Law Forum

The Blog of the The National Law Review

Artist Formerly Known as a Trademark: Prince

Prince logoI’m sure his name came immediately to mind when you read that title: Prince. That was, at least, before he changed it to the unpronounceable, androgynous “Love Symbol.” While many thought this was a marketing stunt, Prince’s “formerly known as” campaign was actually an attempt to skirt a heated legal battle with his record label, Warner Bros., by creating and producing music under a new trademark. Now that the regal record-breaking artist has passed, however, it will be interesting to see where the royalty chips will fall.

Sleepless in Seattle was in, Cheers was out and Haddaway asked the all-important question, “What is Love?” We were all a little Dazed and Confused. It was 1993 when the very public trademark battle began. “Why You Wanna Treat Me So Bad?” Prince asked Warner Bros. when they refused to release his extensive back-log of music. It seemed Warner was more focused on going “Round and Round” the promotion circuit than producing more Prince records, leaving a pile of his hand-crafted gems to sit and collect dust. Finding Warner “Delirious” in this regard and seeing their refusal as a “Sign o’ the Times,” Prince decided to “Kiss” his label goodbye and produce music under a new trademark, the unpronounceable Love Symbol, subsequently copyrighted as “Love Symbol #2.”

“The first step I have taken toward the ultimate goal of emancipation from the chains that bind me to Warner Bros. was to change my name from Prince to the Love Symbol. Prince is the name that my mother gave me at birth. Warner Bros. took the name, trademarked it, and used it as the main marketing tool to promote all of the music that I wrote. The company owns the name Prince and all related music marketed under Prince. I became merely a pawn used to produce more money for Warner Bros.”

Prince claimed in a public statement about the trademark dispute, boldly sporting the word “SLAVE” on his cheek.

While the Love Symbol album didn’t really earn him “Diamonds and Pearls,” it did garner some attention, selling millions of copies worldwide, and laid down some heavy “Purple Rain” on Warner’s Prince promo-party. Prince was waiting for the sun to set on “1999” when his contract with Warner Bros. would expire so he could begin producing music once again under his rightful, trademarked name—Prince—in 2000. Post-“Emancipation,” Prince embarked on a long and lustrous music-making career, earning world-wide critical acclaim and induction into the Rock Star Hall of Fame when he was first eligible in 2004.

With the royal Prince’s passing and his songs playing on every satellite station right now, we couldn’t help but mull over this old trademark tango and wonder what you thought? Was Prince’s bold Love Symbol move successful? Do you predict any royalty fall-out, now that he has passed, over royalties that were earned under the “Love Symbol” trademark as opposed to “Prince?”

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