Attorneys for Lady A, formerly known as Lady Antebellum, have filed a suit against blues singer Anita White who goes by the name Lady A.
According to the suit, filed Wednesday (July 8) in Nashville’s U.S. District Court for the Middle District of Tennessee, the case arises from White’s “attempt to enforce purported trademark rights in a mark that Plaintiffs have held for more than a decade.”
The suit also alleges that after conversations broke down between the band — whose members are Hillary Scott, Charles Kelley and David Haywood — and the singer and their respective attorneys, White’s new counsel “delivered a draft settlement agreement that included an exorbitant monetary demand.” While the dollar figure is not mentioned in the suit, a statement concurrently issued by the band says the amount is $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 group said in a statement. “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.” (Read the statement in full below.) The band is not attempting to stop White from using the name, instead suggesting they share it.
On June 11, the band announced via Instagram that it was dropping the name Antebellum from its name after reflecting on the Black Lives Matter movement and in an effort to be more inclusive.
The next day, June 12, Seattle-based White, who says she has been performing under the name Lady A for more than two decades, told Rolling Stone she was blindsided when she heard the news. “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.”
Only three weeks ago, it seemed like the two parties had amicably come to a decision that both would continue to use the name. On June 15, the group posted a smiling screen shot on its Instagram of a Zoom meeting with White and two of her colleagues, writing “Today, we connected privately with the artist Lady A. Transparent, honest, and authentic conversations were had. We are excited to share we are moving forward with positive solutions and common ground. The hurt is turning into hope. More to come.” White also posted the photo on her Instagram account.
When reached by Billboard June 15, the solo artist Lady A said via email, “We had [a] meeting today and we’re looking forward to a beneficial outcome for both parties. We’re making progress.”
However, communication broke down as talks, which included the band and artist possibly writing and recording a song together and the group promoting White’s career, fell apart.
In the suit, the trio says the group has used Lady Antebellum and Lady A interchangeably as early as 2006-2007, and includes a page from its website in 2008 that cites the band by the nickname, as well as several other references to the band as Lady A through the years.
In May 2010, according to the suit and U.S. Patent and Trademark Office filings reviewed by Billboard, the band applied to register Lady A for entertainment purposes, including live musical performances and streaming musical programming. After there was no opposition filed by any person or entity, the application was registered on July 26, 2011. Further applications to register the name for musical recordings and clothing were also granted after there was no opposition.
“Prior to 2020, White did not challenge, in any way, Plaintiffs’ open, obvious, and widespread nationwide and international use of the LADY A mark as a source indicator for Plaintiffs’ recorded, downloadable, and streaming music and videos, Plaintiffs’ live musical performances, or Plaintiffs’ sale of souvenir merchandise,” the suit states.
The suit acknowledges that the solo artist Lady A has performed under the name and has used the name while touring and to identify herself on recorded music released as far back as 2010 and on streaming services, but adds that “based on information and belief,” White has never used Lady A as a trademark and if she did, she applied after Lady Antebellum had secured its trademarks a decade ago.
According to the suit, the band’s counsel had prepared a draft agreement including such points as continuing to share the name and supporting White’s musical career. However, on June 16, White told Newsday that she was not happy with the agreement and “their camp is trying to erase me…. Trust is important and I no longer trust them.”
On June 25, the band’s counsel was contacted by White’s new counsel at Cooley LLP saying it was reviewing the agreement. On July 7, White’s counsel delivered a new draft that included the “exorbitant monetary demand while maintaining the cooperation and collaboration obligations,” according to the suit. “Paired with White’s public statements, White’s demand for an exorbitant payment in exchange for continued coexistence, notwithstanding the previous absence of discussion of any payment (other than reimbursement of nominal attorneys’ fees), gives rise to imminent controversy, demonstrating a course of action from which a threat of suit could be inferred based on White’s charge of infringement,” the band’s suit states.
The band asks for no money in the suit, only a court declaration that the trio is lawfully using the Lady A trademark and that its continued use of the trademark does not infringe on any rights White may have under state or federal law.
UPDATE: The firm representing White, Cooley LLC, provided Billboard with the following statement: “Cooley LLP is proud to represent Ms. Anita White pro bono in the dispute with Lady Antebellum. It is disappointing that Lady Antebellum decided to forego settlement negotiations in favor of suing Ms. White, the rightful owner of the LADY A trademark. We will zealously defend Ms. White’s prior rights in the LADY A mark, a name she has used for over 30 years. We defer all other questions to Ms. White. It is her story to tell.”
Read Lady A’s full statement below:
Today we are sad to share that our sincere hope to join together with Anita White in unity and common purpose has ended. 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. 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. 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.”