G’Ra Asim admits it: They named their band what they did in hopes their namesake would take notice.
Well, that worked. Days after The Washington Post wrote a story about Asim’s band, their hero hit them with a cease-and-desist.
The name of Asim’s band: A Spike Lee Joint.
Exactly the same tagline Spike Lee uses on his movies.
The D.C.-based pop-punk outfit had been playing under that name for about a year, but four days after a March 27 profile by our colleague Lonnae O’Neal Parker, Asim got a letter from Lee’s lawyer saying the name was a violation of the director’s rights and to stop using it immediately. Lee’s attorney, Arthur Indursky, did not return our calls; nor did Lee’s office.
Asim told us the name choice was part homage — “the spirit of our music is not dissimilar to the spirit of his filmmaking” — and part punk-rock statement. “In punk culture, pretty much any band name has been selected for shock value,” said Asim, who is African American and whose bandmates are both white and black. “I felt like one of the only things left that someone could do to be provocative would be to take a figure from black culture and give it a new context in what’s seen as a predominantly white culture.”
Yeah . . . well, one D.C. trademark attorney gets why Lee might not be feeling the punk spirit. True, the odds are unlikely that anyone would confuse a D.C. pop-punk band for an actual Spike Lee project, said Chris Ott. But “when you’re dealing with creative people, there’s a lot of sweat equity built into a name,” said the lawyer with Vorys, Sater, Seymour and Pease. “He’s got a brand.” Even though Lee has not trademarked the phrase, “you establish your rights by using the name.”
Aw, but what about all those other bands that have borrowed iconic names? Franz Ferdinand, Jethro Tull, Eve’s Plum, Mr. T. Experience, Reagan Youth, the Dandy Warhols and Abe Vigoda, to name a few. The argument that everyone-else-is-doing-it doesn’t really fly, said Ott. But trademark law is “encouraging people to be creative again” — by coming up with new names. Which is what G’Ra Asim told us he plans to do. After all he was born with a pretty good one.