The battle over the use of the name “Lady A” ratcheted up Wednesday with a lawsuit from the country trio formerly known as Lady Antebellum against Anita White, the singer who also goes by Lady A, asking a Tennessee court to declare that both artists can use the moniker going forward.
Among the more interesting points of the country act’s suit: The group says it applied for a trademark on “Lady A” in 2010 and was granted it in 2011. They say that, in the midst of negotiations over sharing the name, the group began writing a song with White that could have been released as a joint single. That was scuttled, along with ongoing negotiations, they say, after she brought in new legal counsel that made “an exorbitant monetary demand.”
Although the amount of the demand is not cited in the lawsuit, a statement released by the group says her current legal counsel asked for $10 million.
“Today we are sad to share that our sincere hope to join together with Anita White in unity and common purpose has ended,” the band’s statement began. “She and her team have demanded a $10 million payment, so reluctantly we have come to the conclusion that we need to ask a court to affirm our right to continue to use the name Lady A, a trademark we have held for many years.”
They added, “We never even entertained the idea that she shouldn’t also be able to use the name Lady A, and never will — today’s action doesn’t change that.”
White did not immediately respond to a request for comment from Variety.
Billboard was first to break the story.
Should the case ever make it to court, untangling the two parties’ claims could prove complicated, as the former Lady Antebellum says it used the “Lady A” informally on websites and in merch going all the way back to 2006 before receiving the 2011 trademark, while White released music under the name as early as 2010, perhaps establishing her own de facto rights, even without a formal trademark.
“Based on information and belief, White has never applied to register ‘Lady ‘A’’ as a trademark or service mark,” the suit contends. Meanwhile, it says, “On May 18, 2010, Lady A’D Productions, Inc. applied to register ‘Lady A’ in International Class 41 for entertainment services, including live musical performances and streaming musical programming. The first use date was identified as 2006, and the first-use-in-commerce date was identified as 2008. ... The application was assigned to Plaintiff LAE on August 30, 2010.” The official registration of the trademark took place on July 26, 2011 “after no oppositions were filed by any person or entity, including White.”
The trio’s lawsuit affirms that no monetary damages are being sought, nor do the group wish to be granted sole rights to the name. They say they simply want to share it, in the spirit of a “coexistence agreement” that was being negotiated before talks broke down.
In what White’s supporters are sure to see as a case of Goliath taking on David, the lawsuit mentions their respective Spotify numbers ± theirs, amounting to millions, hers in the low triple digits — as part of an argument for why no fans would ever confuse the two.
“White used ‘Lady ‘A’’ to identify herself as the performer on recorded music originally released in 2010, 2013, 2016, and 2018,” the suit says. “Although White’s recorded music and the Musical Group’s recorded music both appear on Spotify, each party’s music is immediately distinguishable. For example, the Musical Group has a unique Lady A artist page with over 7 million monthly listeners featuring only the Musical Group’s music (including its album artwork) beneath a prominent photo of the Musical Group, while White has a separate unique Lady ‘A’ artist page with (as of filing) 166 monthly listeners featuring three of her four albums (including her album artwork) beneath a prominent photo of White.”
The suit makes frequent reference to the June 15 moment in which both artists publicized what seemed to be a peaceful and fruitful negotiation, even jointly posting photos from a Zoom call.
“Plaintiffs and White – and later Plaintiffs’ counsel and White’s counsel – discussed various forms of cooperation through which not only would the Plaintiffs and White continue to peacefully coexist, but Plaintiffs would support White’s musical career,” the suit says, without giving any additional information about whether that support would have included financial payments. ” During their Zoom conference, Plaintiffs and White discussed co-writing and jointly recording a new song that would be promoted and commercialized by the parties, and soon afterward, began collaborating on the writing process.”
Then, on June 25, the suit says, “White’s new counsel contacted Plaintiffs’ counsel, stating, in pertinent part, that ‘Cooley LLP represents Ms. White in connection with trademark litigation matters.’ … Eleven days later (July 7th), without any discussion or context (notwithstanding Plaintiffs’ attempts to contact White’s new counsel) and notwithstanding White’s Instagram post 21 days prior extolling the Musical Group’s and White’s join goal of turning ‘hurt into hope,’ White’s new counsel delivered a draft settlement agreement that included an exorbitant monetary demand, while maintaining the cooperation and collaboration obligations.”
The country group’s suit includes numerous attachments showing old merch items bearing the name Lady A and even a screen shot, via the Wayback Machine site, of a page that used the name in 2006.
Lady Antebellum announced earlier in June that they were changing their name after realizing the offense it caused due to its associations with slavery in the Confederacy era.
“It was a stirring in our hearts and reflection on our own blindspots that led us to announce a few weeks ago that we were dropping the word ‘Antebellum’ from our name and moving forward using only the name so many of our fans already knew us by,” the group said in its statement. “When we learned that Ms. White had also been performing under the name Lady A, we had heartfelt discussions with her about how we can all come together and make something special and beautiful out of this moment. We never even entertained the idea that she shouldn’t also be able to use the name Lady A, and never will – today’s action doesn’t change that.
“Instead, we shared our stories, listened to each other, prayed and spent hours on the phone and text writing a song about this experience together. We felt we had been brought together for a reason and saw this as living out the calling that brought us to make this change in the first place. We’re disappointed that we won’t be able to work together with Anita for that greater purpose.
“We’re still committed to educating ourselves, our children and doing our part to fight for the racial justice so desperately needed in our country and around the world. We’ve only taken the first small steps and will prioritize racial equality as a key pillar of the work of LadyAID, specifically leaning into supporting and empowering our youth. We hope Anita and the advisers she is now listening to will change their minds about their approach. We can do so much more together than in this dispute.”
Variety will update its story as White or her representatives respond to the suit.
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