1. Decide what you want your DJ name to be and analyze how original it is. Preferably, you’ll do this before using the DJ name publicly. Research whether other DJs or companies have used the same brand name, or even a brand name that is similar. If another DJ or company used a similar mark, it may have acquired the right to prevent you from using your desired DJ name. Consequently, your DJ name should be original. You can do limited research on this issue without a lawyer by searching the United States Patent and Trademark Office (“USPTO”) database. While do-it-yourself searches may quickly rule out using certain DJ names, a trademark attorney can do a thorough search that will provide you with far more certainty about whether you can use your preferred DJ name without potentially getting into a trademark dispute. If your DJ name is similar to another DJ or brand, the USPTO may reject your registration application, wasting money and time.
2. If you discover that there is a potentially competing DJ name already in use, then you have two choices: You can either change your DJ name to something truly original, or if you have already invested substantial resources in establishing the DJ name, you can hire an attorney to help you figure out whether and how you can use your preferred DJ name anyway.
3. If you’re already confident that your DJ name is not similar to an existing brand name, then start using it to identify yourself in more than one state. In order to serve as a federal trademark, your DJ name must identify the source of goods or services for sale in “interstate commerce.” That means that if you’re gigging in only one state in the country, you need to get some paid gigs across state lines and advertise those gigs under your DJ name. In the U.S., rights in trademarks are acquired by usage. This is different from how one acquires ownership in copyright. With copyrights, creators have incentive to register their works with the U.S. Copyright Office before making the copyrighted works public. But the USPTO will not grant a registration in a trademark until that trademark has already been used in interstate commerce to identify your DJ name.
4. Keep copies of advertisements, flyers and posters for live performances as evidence of your using your DJ name “in interstate commerce.” The USPTO will ask for such evidence if you file a registration application. While a DJ can apply for registration in more than one class of services or goods (e.g., live performances, recorded music and merchandise are three separate classes), most DJs register their trademark for live performances first, since that’s arguably the most important category.
5. Once you’re using the DJ name, register multiple Internet domains associated with your artistic name. Doing so won’t secure trademark rights for your band, but locking down these domain names before applying for a USPTO registration is wise, because when you file a trademark registration application, it’s a matter of public record. Evil “cybersquatters” sometimes comb through such records and then register related domains in an attempt to extort payments out of unsuspecting trademark owners. A DJ that files a trademark registration application for its DJ name before registering related domains may soon find that the domains it wanted have been suddenly “taken” and is “available for sale” by the cybersquatter at exorbitant rates. It’s often much cheaper to secure all related Internet domains before filing a USPTO application.
6. Apply for registration of your DJ name as a trademark with the USPTO. If you have both a DJ name in words and a logo, and can’t afford to register both, then try to register the name and worry about the logo later. Trademark registration applications are more complicated than copyright registrations. Trademark applications have a higher success rate when filed by an attorney, but if you can’t afford attorneys’ fees, then it is better to try to file a trademark registration application on a DIY basis than foregoing the process altogether. You can review and start the USPTO’s online registration process (here).
Once you have filed a registration application, the USPTO will assign an “Examining Attorney” who will oversee your case. That Examining Attorney is usually available to take questions via phone calls and emails. On the other hand, if the Examining Attorney finds potential problems with your application and sends you an official “Office Action” requiring a response, then you may need to hire an attorney to help you draft and file a written response.