Lady A shares her side of legal issue with country group: 'I am not going to be erased'
First speaking to Vulture on Thursday, the artist — whose real name is Anita White — said she was not surprised by the lawsuit that revealed the country group had a trademark on Lady A and would, therefore, be forcing her hand on a coexistence agreement.
Rather than listen to her concerns on how an independent artist like herself was supposed to coexist with one of the biggest country groups in the world, White felt the group only focused on optics like the Zoom photo they posted with her that was captioned “moving forward with positive solutions and common ground.”
“The first contract they sent [on June 30] had no substance,” White explained to writer Andrea Williams. “It said that we would coexist and that they would use their best efforts to assist me on social media platforms, Amazon, iTunes, all that. But what does that mean? I had suggested on the Zoom call that they go by the Band Lady A, or Lady A the Band, and I could be Lady A the Artist, but they didn’t want to do that.”
White expanded on the issue in a piece as told to Rolling Stone on Friday. The question of whether a coexistence agreement could work has already been answered on her end after she tried to upload a new single to the independent distribution service she uses, and it took them several days to verify her name. "I have new fans sending me emails asking how to get my music because they can’t find me anywhere."
White understands where the group was initially coming from with their name change. "Not wanting a name that is a reminder to many Black folks of how so much was taken from us: our freedom, languages, families, and even our names makes sense," she said. "However, to do so by taking the name on which I, a Black woman, have built my career in the music industry for over 20 years is ironic."
There's also the fact that their name change isn't fully rid of its slavery-era connotations, as the "A" still stands for Antebellum. White says she brought this point up on the phone with lead singer Hillary Scott: "How do you change that? I’d asked, and she never answered."
White found herself at an impasse with the band, where their offers of doing a song together and documenting the process on video were things that served them more than they did her. Realizing the band would not consider another name change on their end, White said, "I decided the best thing for me to do is rebrand myself, which is one of the reasons I asked for anything monetary. It’s only right that I should be able to rebrand myself in order to continue to serve my fans, my community, and the artists and upcoming artists I mentor and teach along with my other community activities as an activist."
White confirmed to both outlets she spoke to that she did request $10 million but notes that the complaint did not specify that half of the money was meant to be donated to the Black Lives Matter Foundation. The other half would in part be an investment in her community, as well as an investment in her career as an independent artist without any of the financial backing a major label provides, who would have to start all over with a new name after steadily working three decades as Lady A.
To the point of the complaint noting that the Nashville-based country group has long had a trademark on the name Lady A, and this is the first time that trademark has been challenged, White asks, "Why would I have challenged them? They were going by Lady Antebellum before; they weren’t going by Lady A. 'Anytime I went on Google, I only saw Lady Antebellum; I never saw [them referred to as] Lady A.' I was Lady A for 30 years, regardless of whether I have a trademark."
For the most part, trademark law favors who was using the name first over who has the most money, but going into a legal battle where the other side has the backing of Big Machine Label Group remains a David and Goliath situation.
"If you want to be an advocate or an ally, you help those who you’re oppressing," she told Vulture. "And that might require you to give up something because I am not going to be erased.”
In her chat with Rolling Stone, White shared how she wants to see the issue solved: "The ideal situation right now would be for them to change their name. If they are in fact allies, they have the resources, they have the money, they can change their name. It wouldn’t cost them a dime. We have to remember the reason for the name change. If that wasn’t the true reason for the name change, none of this makes sense."
The band has not yet publicly responded to Lady A the artist.