Reply to Vaughn Blaylock:

My intent here is to keep my reply respectful of all parties involved. While I appreciate the considerate tone of your questions, I sincerely wish you had written me privately as was my request to you. Since you did not and since these YouTube (and various other social media) comments keep coming my way, I suppose I will finally answer them in this format. Will you please listen? If you did, you may clear up not only your own confusion but that of Novelists (FR) and the rest of their fan base. I understand we are not yet friends, but you would also be helping me instead of causing further harm here.

We have all learned how poor these public forums are at promoting consensus and understanding. I’m not sure how to live peacefully in a world where people still show so little desire to understand the various sides of a story before coming to a conclusion. Case in point: You wrote that my decision to press for the legal rights of my trademark “seems odd” to you. That’s a conclusion based on your premises – namely, (1) that we are only a local folk band from Nevada, (2) that they are only a French metal band, (3) that confusion between The Novelists (US) and Novelists (FR) would be unlikely, and (4) that the popularity of Novelists (FR) would help The Novelists (US). Please allow me to promise you that if all (or even any) of your premises were true, I would certainly not have gone through the considerable stress and expense to try and finally remedy the problem. Why would I block a benefit to me? I would find that just as odd, of course. What I’m saying is, give me the respect of understanding that if the situation were as you are guessing it to be, I would’ve come to a similar conclusion as you. 

In turn, I have no idea about your life. I don’t know if you play music or make any other art professionally. I don’t know if you have managed a band or run your own business. I won’t assume anything about you, but I will clarify about my reality, because common misconceptions about social media popularity/traction, definitions of success, trademark law and its intent, and the current international nature of all digitized media seem to be at the heart of the confusion I keep encountering.

1) Yes, Reno is our home base, though I have lived and worked in all four contiguous US time zones as a professional musician. That said, since 2005 we have toured the US extensively (1000+ shows in 30+ states and several hundred thousand miles of driving – I’ve played over 3000 shows myself). We have taken the band to Canada on numerous occasions and through various solo tours, our music has been performed in half a dozen other countries (4 continents). We have been selling our albums in the EU (including France) since well before Novelists (FR) became a band. We have supported ourselves as full-time musicians for over a decade with this method. We were never approaching this the same way Novelists (FR) have, though theirs is equally valid and has certainly been more commercially successful. We were not trying to compete with them at all, remember. As I have consistently stated, I also think they are a great band. 

We never wanted a label (only still common in metal and less mainstream genres – to the credit of those genres and their respective loyal communities), social media explosion or any of those things, which believe it or not, aren’t the only or even best metrics by which to gauge the success of a band. Our plan has been solid and it has worked a long time for us on both a human and artistic level. We didn’t dedicate our lives to this to be famous, but rather to continue sharing music and connecting with other people. That said, we have headlined countless festivals and tours, opened for many international acts, played and become friends with our childhood heroes, and won our fair share of contests. 

2) Novelists (FR) are not just a French metal band. They have toured the US already, and from what I’ve gathered from our communication and their own posts, they intend to again in the future – as we may well return to Europe. Their US tour, by the way, is when I finally stepped in, after years of trying to quietly find a way to let them be. We wrote them and all of their various managers/labels/promoters before the tour and they all ignored it. At that point, we were legally entitled to sue to stop the tour or to take all the proceeds of the tour as well as pressing for financial damage to our brand. We also legally hold the EU trademark and could’ve at any time sued them to stop operating there and to forward to us all proceeds made under our legally protected name. We chose not to. Which brings us to…

3) Confusion was already rampant. Due to the nature of digital distribution, a band’s home base is virtually irrelevant in a modern online marketplace. I’m sure you can already understand why this is, but the “how” is quite extensive. Facebook, YouTube, iTunes/Apple Music, Spotify, CD Baby, and so many other computer-driven software distribution and publicity programs are not yet sophisticated enough to tell us apart. Even worse, they are coded in such a way as to create and preserve a bias. Every time we toured we would watch hundreds of people we just met and connected with “like” Novelists (FR)’s Facebook page, subscribe to their channel, or link the wrong band. I was tired of sending free albums to fans who were surprised to find that the albums they purchased online sounded nothing like the band they had just seen live. It became common for us to show up at a gig and have the owners tell us they almost didn’t book us due to the fact that we “came across as a metal band” online. How many others never made the appropriate connection and simply didn’t reply at all? Every single FB event we created was auto-populated with photos of Novelists (FR) and they can’t be deleted. Every YouTube topic channel was the same. Even iTunes and various other streaming programs kept switching our respective discographies. Rest assured, the law requires me to prove these claims or Novelists (FR) would not have complied.

I strive to be a fair and reasonable person. I am also empathetic to a fault, identifying as what many would call a “peace and love” hippie. Nonetheless, even my own narrow definition of success was getting severely compromised by the decisions of another “band halfway across the world.” I was certainly not included in their risky decision to use our name (“Novelists” and “The Novelists” are legally identical in both US and EU law- the same way there can’t be Beatles or The Metallica touring as distinct identities, of course). Even their eventual decision to just add the FR was legally questionable, and I would’ve won at least the US case had I sued them to make it more distinct. Instead, I told Nicolas this would be fine with me, as I was sensitive to their situation and wasn’t trying to hurt them. I was simply asking that we have distinct online identities so as to prevent the destructive and well-documented confusion of both our respective fans and the various computer algorithms. I was simply asking them to take responsibility for the decision they made, because I had already paid too much, whether they were previously aware of it or not.

And to that last point, we were the top search result on Google and all international music platforms well before they chose their name. They cannot claim ignorance of our existence – this was a calculated risk, though possibly based on false understanding. They likely also made the same mistake as many of their fans, namely deciding how important we were based on our social media presence. Fortunately, this is not actually a popularity contest. All of the lawyers involved on both sides had no trouble concluding that we were well beyond the necessary threshold. 

This (FR) was a huge compromise that still creates confusion online, particularly since it is often published as Novelists (known in print as Novelists FR) and even Wikipedia and Google’s main topic page call them Novelists. Whatever. I live with it. I was tired of the constant stress and my chief concerns were resolved. Back to the point, Novelists (FR) made this call on their own, they signed to a label, they toured the US. I also had no influence whatsoever in the fact that this is illegal in both our countries. 

Have you researched why it’s illegal? Do you also understand that if we don’t press our trademark we legally lose it? Meaning, despite their best intentions on our behalf, they or another band that doesn’t respect naming rights and precedent could take the trademark and force us to stop playing as The Novelists? Do you actually think this would be fair? I would have no legal protection if this happened, and it does all the time. 

4) You are correct in guessing that we have also received likes, plays, adds, etc., that were intended for Novelists (FR), even despite our efforts to redirect their fans. By the numbers, we should be receiving more than they are from us, in fact. Why isn’t this beneficial? Because we are not trying to boost our numbers, as I mentioned above. Non-fans as stats is a smoke and mirrors game which we have no interest in playing. It’s not good for us or the fans who are looking for them. For similar reasons we never took the popular route of bot-adds across social media platforms. We only want to connect with fans that actually like us and who will come to shows and get our albums in the future. In this rapid-paced, treadmill sea of online media we have a very small window of opportunity for securing this connection after first engaging a fan. Novelists (FR)’s decision to use our name actually blocked us in FB search results for over two years, since they are signed and have a larger following. Even logged in to my own profile as the admin of The Novelists page I couldn’t bring us up in search results during this time. Do you want to understand how detrimental this was to us? We were doing over 30,000 miles of US touring a year during this period, playing upwards of 250 shows a year. While their comparative online success may be exciting for their fans, do you really think I owe it to Novelists (FR) to agree to be non-existent or mostly hidden on social media because the algorithms of those platforms prioritize the most popular search and hide all the others? I have had to appeal each platform and jump through massive hoops to even begin showing up again. I won these cases because I had proof and was actually in the right. Unfortunately, most of the other platform confusion never resolved until they added the (FR). Some of it continues today. What I’m trying to say is that it has been much worse than you have imagined. I am not exaggerating. In fact, I am not even scratching the surface of the struggle. 

To summarize: For years before I spoke up, their decision to use our name was having an increasingly negative impact on our band’s success. By the time I spoke up, we were essentially buried on major social media platforms, making it much more difficult for our fans to ever find us. By independent musician standards, it is extremely expensive to protect intellectual property rights. I avoided the trouble until it was costing me far more to not speak up. Have you ever been in a similar situation? What did you do? 

Also, we were legally vulnerable to losing the right to use the name ourselves. Though Nicolas suggested this would never happen, any other group could’ve done it to both of us at any time (there have been 6 artists trying to use the name since us). At a certain level of success (which they seem to be approaching), this decision has been made for bands by their lawyers and labels, who well understand how necessary it is to legally protect such a crucial part of their investment. 

It seems that Novelists (FR) may have truly believed it was their right to use this name. However, in truth, in both countries it was not. The reason it was not has nothing to do with my personal judgment or values. It is law because huge precedent shows that the above complications happen predictably and can be detrimental or fatal to the original business. I don’t expect (or really want) any fans to know this stuff. That’s why I have kept quiet all these years. With a small amount of searching you can find my claims repeated by countless other bands and businesses that have been through a similar ordeal. Reading this (and assuming you can sense the sincerity) would you still ask me to just comply at my own expense because the newer band is your preference or they are younger or they are more popular anyway? Believe it or not, many of their fans take it this far. Am I wrong in guessing that you might be defensive on behalf of Novelists (FR) if another band came onto the scene claiming rights to the creations of Novelists (FR), which legally include their logo, songs, videos, band name, etc.?

I cheer for them as fellow musicians, but should I be forced to accept the damage their decisions cause me? I didn’t hurt them with an aggressive or thoughtless move. I have never sought reparations. I asked them to finally start taking responsibility for the cost of their decision because I could no longer afford to. The choice they have now is the same one they had when they began: find a name that isn’t already in professional use – just like they are expected to write original songs. They decided to press ahead with the name. In doing so, they caused considerable harm (whether inadvertently or not) to another band. That other band tried to for years to make space. Novelists (FR) took it all and then too much more. That other band finally spoke up. That other band became the enemy. Why is this OK?

I am sincerely wishing you well, Vaughn.