How much is a band name worth? More specifically, how much is one letter of that name worth?
Recently, Eugene doom-metal act Middian was threatened with legal action by a Milwaukee, Wisconsin metal band that goes by the name Midian. Originally a cease and desist letter from the band's attorney, the Milwaukee band later brought forth a federal lawsuit for violation of the name—which has many meanings, from biblical (it's the name of Abraham's son), to a territory in the Middle East, to the name of an album by symphonic black metal icons Cradle of Filth—to which they own the copyright. The situation has absolutely financially crippled the Eugene-based Middian, plus their booking agent (and Mercury freelancer) Nathan Carson, as well.
I reached out to both bands. After a lengthy delay, Milwaukee's Midian directed all questions to their attorney, who did not return calls by press time. Mike Scheidt, singer/guitarist for Eugene's Middian, was available, and he spoke about the legal situation and the impact it has had on him:
When you first chose the name, did you research to see if there was another band with a similar title?
Yes, we did a search that was worldwide. We never heard of the band Midian from Wisconsin until they sent us a cease and desist letter in October 2007. We sent them a letter saying that we would be more than happy to sign a "live and let live" kind of document. They had been inactive for almost a decade, had never been signed or released any albums outside of their state (and none that could be tracked down), and we weren't going to give up everything we had worked for in the last two years. They do own a trademark for the name, but due to lack of use they have abandoned their mark in our eyes, and in the eyes of a number of attorneys we have talked to, including our own. We get the feeling that Midian of Wisconsin thinks we have lots of money, since we were (formerly) on Metal Blade (our label dropped us because of the suit) and have a worldwide release. Of course we don't have a dime, like most bands.
Have you been able to reason with them at all? Maybe appeal to them as fellow brothers in metal?
I wrote them a personal letter expressing that we were willing to let them have the name. And I expressed that not only are we dirt poor, we already had been dropped by Metal Blade and could no longer sell our album. I have three kids and I cannot possibly afford to pay them what they are asking. I asked for Midian to be reasonable and to realize that they could still save themselves from hurting their own reputations in the metal community. That was right before they officially filed a federal lawsuit.
We feel very fortunate to have so many friends out there who are standing strong beside us. All we want to do is get back to doing what we love most: writing music, recording, and performing live.
A fund has been set up by the band to help with mounting legal expenses: middian.org/donate