Column 93 — The Price of a Finger; White Whale, Nada Surf tonight…

Category: Blog — @ 12:19 pm September 21, 2006

Consider this an addendum to yesterday’s Ladyfinger feature. The specifics were too good to cram into that story and deserved their own column. What would I have suggested had I been asked (and there’s absolutely no reason why I would have)? Ladyfinger UK, of course. There’s a rich history of bands that have tucked a UK after their name to appease greedy squatters (which is all that LA band really is) and lawyers. Who remembers Kansas City’s Cher UK? Or Charlatans UK? Chameleons UK? The list goes on and on. I have no idea how much more negotiating went on beyond what’s below. I wouldn’t be surprised if there were counter-counter offers, but the fact is, time was running out. The band needed to get the CD pressed. Schedules were in place for a reason. Would they have won had they fought it? Maybe, but it would have taken months if not years for the glacial judicial system to render a decision…

Column 93: What’s in a Name?
The high cost of being Ladyfinger…

Before we get started, go read the feature on Ladyfinger on page __. We’ll wait. We always do….

Waitaminit… Did I say Ladyfinger? I should have said Ladyfinger (NE). After all, that is their legal name these days, despite how wonky it sounds, right? Look, no one I’ve talked to, including the band, likes the name Ladyfinger (NE). The added parenthetical albatross is awkward, confusing and just plain strange looking. But the cost of doing business without it could be higher than the retail, which in this case, is around $8,750.

Let’s start from the beginning: The Omaha punk rock four-piece who we fondly know as Ladyfinger has been using the name since their conception in August 2003. Over the past three years, Ladyfinger has played gigs all over the country with no incidents, warnings, or threats of reprisals, legal or otherwise.

Everything seemed hunky-dory until Saddle Creek Records agreed to release Ladyfinger’s debut LP. The band had already done their share of Googling and MySpacing and all the other Internet-related research, and couldn’t find another band by the name. Things seemed copasetic. “The only thing we didn’t do was check the trademark registry,” said Ladyfinger frontman Chris Machmuller. “Why would we think to when we couldn’t find a band by that name?”

But just for the heck of it, they decided to check the trademark registry of the United States Patent and Trademark Office. And that’s when the problems started. Seems there actually is another band called Ladyfinger based out of Los Angeles that apparently has owned the name for years.

Drummer Pat Oakes said the LA band has no viable interest in the name Ladyfinger and hadn’t even been playing anywhere. “It seems like they decided one day to trademark it,” he said. “We thought maybe they’d be understanding, since they weren’t functioning as a band.”

In an e-mail dated May 16, 2006, Omaha’s Ladyfinger reached out to LA’s Ladyfinger, saying yes, they had found mention of the LA Ladyfinger, but couldn’t find any contact information or active website. Since they thought it was no longer a functioning band, they went ahead and named their band Ladyfinger. “We’d really like to release our record under the name Ladyfinger,” the email said. “To do so we would need to purchase the trademark from you to avoid infringement.”

So Omaha’s Ladyfinger made an offer, which the LA Ladyfinger, of course, immediately turned down. “If you want to buy the trademark, we would consider a reasonable offer that makes more sense for us…” the LA band said in a reply.

Incidentally, a few days after Omaha’s Ladyfinger made contact, — the LA band’s website — curiously went online. Hmm…

Anyway, Omaha’s Ladyfinger upped the ante — considerably — taking into account things like registration and lawyers’ fees. The LA Ladyfinger wasn’t biting. Instead, their counter offer included a detailed price list:

— $1,000 for all fees necessary for the LA band to come up with a new trademark (license and legal)
— $500 to cover legal fees to transfer the existing name to the Omaha band.
— $500 for new artwork
— $2,000 to repress their two CDs
— $1,000 for printing new T-shirts
— $200 for 2,000 stickers
— $50 for registering a new website domain.
— $3,500 for their perceived personal value of the name, derived by charging $500 per year for the seven years they’ve been in existence
The grand total: $8,750, not including $500 “for our time and effort.”

The price was too high. Omaha’s Ladyfinger considered fighting the claim. “And we could have won,” Oakes said, citing trademark abandonment as a defense. But there simply wasn’t time for a drawn-out legal battle.

Instead, the band considered the alternatives. Ladyfinger Jr., Ladyfinger UK, adding “The” or an “s” or a period or exclamation point. Purposely misspelling the name. Adding “Inc.” or “Ltd.” They even wrestled with new names like Bad Marks, Burger Time and Ages. Nothing seemed to work, Oakes said.
Time ticked by. The promo CD already had been held for a couple weeks at the plant. Decisions had to be made. “It got to be such a burden,” Oakes said. “We just wanted it to end so we could move on with our lives.”

Finally in June while on tour, the band sat down over coffee in an mall in Indianapolis and decided to add (NE) to their name — representing Nebraska. “We thought it would be the most unobtrusive option,” said bass player Ethan Jones.

“We were at the point where you could call us whatever the fuck you wanted,” Oakes said.

And so, the band was rechristened Ladyfinger (NE), for better or worse, for richer or poorer, til death do they part. And if you don’t like it, do what I do. I’ll continue to call Pat, Chris, Jamie and Ethan “Ladyfinger,” because that’s who they are. And if those guys in LA don’t like it, they can sue me.

This week of quality shows continues tonight with White Whale opening for Nada Surf down at Sokol Underground. If it sounds like a weird combination, believe me, it sounded weird when I mentioned it to the guys in White Whale, too. Also playing tonight, The Plus Ones (ex-members of Mr. T Experience and Pansy Division who played at O’Leaver’s a year ago July). $15, 9 p.m.

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