HOW DASHBOARD CONFESSIONAL STOLE MY IDENTITY: A Cautionary Tale For Bands

YOU’LL FIND AN UPDATE ON THIS STORY HERE

First off, I feel the need to introduce myself. I’m entirely unknown in the grand scheme of things and some back-story is required in order to understand my position… My name is Luke Stidson. I have been making music under the name ‘Twin Falls’ since 2008. Releasing my first EP in 2009, the lead single ‘Janie I Will Only Let You Down’ was playlisted by BBC Radio1, amongst others. 

Over the last 4 years since that first EP, my band mates and I have managed to gain a second Radio1 playlist, recorded a session at the legendary Maida Vale, I’ve had my songs inducted into The British Library’s Sound Recording Archive and we are now about to release our second full length record. We have done all of this with no major label support, at times no formal management and no big PR machine behind us. I’ve found myself at a fairly crucial ‘middle level’ in my career, whereby every move we make as a band is absolutely vital to our plight to try and knock one into the ‘open goals’ that are handed to us. Sometimes music pays my rent for a couple months. At other times my ever-indebted-to parents do. You get the jist.

It was whilst putting the finishing touches to the master of our new record that it came to my attention the burgeoning existence of another ‘Twin Falls’. A few articles online, erroneously directed at our Facebook and Twitter accounts, stated that Chris Carrabba, the former emo pin-up better known as Dashboard Confessional, was to start a new band and that band was to be called Twin Falls.

The grey area of whether two established bands can co-exist with the same name is surely even greyer these days with the need for an online presence being such as it is. The idea of territories playing a part at dividing the two is no longer feasible. In the past, one group from the US called ‘Nirvana’ could (either with some formal arrangement between the two parties or not) happily go about their business whilst another ‘Nirvana’ from the UK went about theirs (they did - that’s a true story). The law itself doesn’t have a huge part to play, unless one band has trademarked their name (but trademarks and the law surrounding them is an entirely different matter). What does come into the discussion is the matter of confusion and these days that is something that is even trickier to avoid. How would Nirvana (US) and Nirvana (UK) have handled their clashing iTunes releases, listings on last.FM, tour dates on Songkick and catalogue on Spotify etc. had these things existed back in 1992?

I’d stumbled upon the name Twin Falls myself after the Built To Spill song. Chris Carrabba stated in an interview that he’d decided upon it after seeing the sign for the, rather grey US town (the one mentioned in the song) whilst out on tour. To me that seemed a bit like me, a guy from the UK, calling my band ‘Scunthorpe’ but I suppose each to his own. After a lengthy trial of attempting to get word to a representative for Chris Carrabba and co, I finally received an e-mail in reply to my messages on their Facebook and Twitter accounts. The mail was from Rich Egan of Hard8 Management who represents Chris and now in turn, his new band. Mr. Egan’s mail was polite but to the point: “Here is the information for our lawyer. He will be in contact with you”. I immediately wrote back to ask how he personally thought they may handle the confusion. Had he/Chris/the band noticed that I existed when they chose that name for their band? Presumably they’d noticed the iTunes listing or the Wikipedia page under the heading ‘Twin Falls (band)’?

I received no reply at all from Rich. He was going to let the lawyer talk for him and, sure enough, after a couple of days I received a note from their lawyer. The letter was long and arrived in my inbox twice (the second time he decided to add it to a letter headed PDF to make it more formal). To sum up the long letter (and to keep the length of this article down), the lawyer made the following statements:

1) My claim to the use of the name and evidence to support it is “dubious at best” (remember, this is a name I have been touring and recording under for 5 years - releasing two records under. I’m still unsure to this day how my evidence could be called “dubious”.)

2) The term ‘Twin Falls’ is a place name and as such, cannot be trademarked under US law. Therefore neither party can make any formal claim over the term.

3) Despite the above, Chris Carrabba and band intend to keep using the name.

As far as I was concerned, Mr. Egan’s lawyer had just done a lot of work for us for free. Being a place name, the term cannot be trademarked (something I was unaware of). I replied to the lawyer, all the while with totally silent Rich Egan CC’d in. I asked why it was, that considering there is nothing that can legally be done to claim the use of the name, I was having a conversation with a lawyer and not Mr. Egan himself? Surely it was merely a matter of both parties giving the other enough respect to come to a mutual arrangement whereby the confusion can be avoided?

It took a few days for Mr. Egan to respond. Eventually, I guess he realised he’d just paid a lawyer to come to a conclusion that benefitted both of us and put us on level pegging (although I still consider the fact I’ve been using the name for 5 years and they’ve been using it for 3 months makes us hugely un-level). Rich Egan said he hadn’t responded previously because he felt I was “insulting” in my tone and I had made “veiled threats”. I made a point of re-reading my mails to check I hadn’t accidentally taken the piss out of that Dashboard Confessional video where he’s really upset and is crying into his pillow (you know, the famous one). It turns out I hadn’t and the only comment I made that vaguely made sense as an insult was that I found his complete silence on the matter “somewhat arrogant”. My threats weren’t “veiled”. I don’t think I made any threats as such and if the claim that I would have to seek my own legal advice could be considered a threat, it certainly isn’t veiled in any way.

That was neither here nor there however, as Rich and I were finally talking like grown ups without any legal supervision. He suggested that maybe a compromise would be for his Twin Falls to adopt a suffix in the form ‘Twin Falls (US)’ when they commence any touring in my territory of the UK. I’d have to do the same obviously - if my band ever made it over to the States we’d need to bill ourselves as ‘Twin Falls (UK)’.

I replied that I thought that was fair, but then had the foresight to ask how he envisaged handling releases. Would Twin Falls (US) be listing all their releases in the UK storefronts of online retailers like iTunes and Amazon etc. as ‘Twin Falls (US)’ and not just ‘Twin Falls’? Oh, and how about actual physical releases? I didn’t want to walk into a record shop and see my ‘Twin Falls’ record next to their ‘Twin Falls’ record. Presumably even the shop itself wouldn’t have any clue that they are different bands.

Then there’s touring elsewhere. My band is unlikely to make it to the States anytime soon but we do hope to make it to mainland Europe. What happens if both Twin Falls are touring Europe at the same time?

These were honest questions and I wanted to just outlay the things expected of us (and them) before we mutually agreed to the suffix idea. Rich, however wasn’t happy to respond to my questions. Perhaps me wanting clarification on these important points had brought up issues with the idea that he hadn’t previously thought of. Or perhaps (and perhaps more likely) he was hoping I just wouldn’t have thought about that and him making some sort of half-arsed suggestion would just make me go away.

Either way, Mr. Egan’s tone of voice changed dramatically. The idea of coming to a compromise was off the table and they’d simply “offer a refund” if anyone showed up looking for our band. He was adamant that “(his band’s) fans will be able to distinguish between the two at the record store”. He told me they’d experienced no confusion already, which I thought was funny as their Facebook page has a lot of people quite confused as to whom the ‘Twin Falls’ on iTunes and Spotify is. “I listened to the latest Huw Stephens’ BBC Introducing podcast and there’s nothing on it about Chris. The BBC have got this wrong”.

Mr. Egan’s replies became less frequent and utilised fewer words. The previously professional manner in which he was dealing with the situation was out the window, as was the need for basic English skills. I was lucky to receive more than one sentence in reply and terms like “..want to” and “..got to..” were now replaced with “wanna” and “gotta”. Had Rich become so angry with the whole situation that he had smashed up his keyboard, leaving him unable to type correctly? Or had he become so arrogantly flippant with me that he simply refused to spend more than two minutes replying to any of my mails? Either way, it was annoying because I don’t understand all that ‘text-speak’. I am over 15.

As it now stands, after seeking the small amount of legal advice that we could buy ourselves, the crux of this situation is that: regardless of how long we have been using the name, any attempt to stop the other party using it will have to involve a lengthy journey through the courts. In other words, at the end of the day, the person who has the most money and therefore the resource to fight their case to the bitter end, will win. We could pile all of our money into the situation, of course but eventually (probably quite quickly) our money will run out and our battle will be lost. It may be a weak source of reference but according to a website that lists how much US recording artists are worth, Chris Carrabba has earned around $12million. My last PRS cheque was for £245.

I’m left entirely unsure as to how this devastating blow will affect the future of my band that have recently been gaining more and more interest here in the UK (due to the excellent support of people like BBC Introducing). Not least the details regarding the future release of our new Twin Falls record that is supposed to be out in May. Pretty much every day we receive some kind of online correspondence from a confused Dashboard Confessional fan (even more confused than 13 year old girls are already) and recent interviews with Chris Carrabba and co state that they are releasing an album later this year as well as touring the world.  We will undoubtedly have to change our name but this will result in five years of work down the drain. What will we do with our back catalogue of Twin Falls releases online (not to mention the 1000+ CDs we currently hold in stock)?

Anyway, please consider this a lesson to all musicians. It is a potentially career-crippling blow for me but it doesn’t have to be for you. Name your band Scunthorpe.