On Friday, 13th October 2023, the Leicester-based band formerly known as Easy Life, played their final gig under their previous name. This follows a reported settlement of a High Court trade mark dispute with easyGroup, the parent company of low-cost airline EasyJet, where the band agreed not to use the name going forward. There have been countless previous examples of musical acts facing the inconvenience and potential fan confusion following a change of name, including The Artist Formerly Known As Prince or the Smoke Boys (formerly known as Section Boyz). Given the significant goodwill the band has acquired over the years this dispute should act as a reminder to bands, managers, designers and promoters about their participation in the music business. Stakeholders must ensure that their most valuable asset, their intellectual property, is secure, as early as possible, and that their communications (including names) do not infringe the rights of others.
The band formerly known as Easy Life (their new name has not been announced yet) played their first gig in Nottingham in 2015 and released their first single in 2017. They have rocketed towards mainstream success; signing with Island Records in 2018, followed by two number two-charting albums in 2021 and 2022 respectively, with the former, "Life's a Beach" going silver.
On the other hand, the easyGroup was founded in 1998 and own a large portfolio of trade marks featuring the “easy” name. The group acquired an “easylife” trade mark in August 2022, which was registered that same month. This easylife trade mark was sought by a separate company in September 2020 in Class 35 (services not limited to online retailing connected with the sale of audio-visual equipment, musical instruments, CDs, DVDs and clothing), and once acquired was relied upon by easyGroup (alongside several of their other marks) in bringing their trade mark claim against the band.
In the first week of October 2023, it was reported that easyGroup lodged a claim with the High Court for trade mark infringement over the use bands use of the “Easylife” name. EasyGroup has also alleged that the band infringed its trade mark through merchandise including easyJet branding and a tour poster which appeared to imitate the easyJet plane design and branding.
Show must go on
In a Twitter/X post, the band referred to Easy Life's beginnings in 2015, denying claims of brand theft by referring to easyGroup's 2022 trade mark acquisition. They added that the band “worked hard to establish our brand I'm certain in no way we have ever affected their business”. Shortly afterwards the band “realised that there are no good options available” and on October 10th announced that they will need to change their name to move forward. The band cited lack of funds for a High Court trial, the impact on future releases and risk of personal liability in the event of a loss as reasons behind this course of action. However, the band decided to “go out” with a bang and announced two final, rapid-fire gigs under the Easy Life name. The lawsuit attracted attention from fans and MPs alike, who took to Twitter/X to support the band and encourage easyGroup to allow the band the name use.
It appears that this is a matter of a knowledge gap, resulting in the band having to start afresh with a new name. It is true that the band has been known as Easy Life since 2015 and has acquired goodwill in the name before the easylife trade mark had even been registered. However, the easyGroup has long held trade mark protection for their portfolio of marks featuring the “easy” name, and the band did not file any opposition to the new trade mark in 2020 to protect their goodwill. EasyGroup therefore holds the rights associated with the easylife trade mark, which includes the ability to limit its use without their consent.
Perhaps the outcome could have been different, and the band's bargaining power would have been stronger, had they not used EasyJet's branding in its tour poster and merchandise. With the use of orange and planes, it is clear as day that the idea behind the poster was to “play-on” EasyJet's branding and the similarity with the band's name. The band may have been right in saying that their use had not directly affected easyGroup's business, however, the use has infringed the group’s right to control how their brand is used. The band could have sought permission or proposed a partnership, given the poster promoted a world tour and had a wide exposure. The risk of infringement should have also been flagged by either of the band's graphic designer, touring company or other advisors well before the recent dispute.
This decision is an unfortunate reminder that this is the music business. The lack of knowledge of a registered mark is not a defence to infringing intellectual property rights. Given the commercial nature of most artists, bands, artists, advertisers and managers alike can limit risks by assuming that a “play-on” from another brand for their own commercial gain is not permitted. It is essential for creatives to educate themselves on the intricacies of the music business and if they are not business-savvy, to develop a network of trusted business advisors.
“they’re forcing us to change our name or take up a costly legal battle which we could never afford. we’ve worked hard to establish our brand i’m certain in no way have we ever affected their business.