In 2012, former basketball star Michael Jordan filed a lawsuit against Chinese sports apparel company Qiaodan for using his name for business purposes and without his permission. The Fujian-based sportswear firm registered the Chinese characters of qiaodan, the Chinese rendering of Jordan, in 2008 and had been manufacturing a range of merchandise under the trademark.
Four years later, the country’s highest court ruled in favour of the basketball legend, giving back the legal rights to the Chinese character version of his name. “Nothing is more important than protecting your own name,” Jordan said in a statement.
Last week, Hong Kong pop idol Deng Ziqi, 27, also known as G.E.M. (it stands for “get everybody moving”), also learned what it means to lose her name.
In early March, the singer announced that she had parted ways with her long-time record label, Hummingbird Music. The break-up, however, is far from amicable. In a Sina Weibo post, Deng explained to her fans that the record label had been taking jobs and signing endorsement deals without first consulting her.
Even before the two sides could reach a resolution, Hummingbird continued to promote her tour, she said, “to downplay the seriousness of the matter” and portray that all was well.
Hummingbird denied the accusations and warned that it was considering legal action.
The Hong Kong singer became a household name in the mainland after appearing on Hunan Satellite TV’s reality singing competition I Am A Singer back in 2014. With her deep and powerful voice, she won over millions of fans and became one of the most recognisable Hong Kong singers in China.
In 2016, she was even named one of Forbes’ “30 under 30”, a testament to her influence in the music industry.
After news surfaced that Deng had terminated her contract with Hummingbird, media began reporting that both of Deng’s stage names Deng Ziqi (邓紫棋) and G.E.M. were trademarked by the record company back in 2015.
Her real name is Deng Shiying (邓诗颖) and after the break-up, Hummingbird could retain the rights to the G.E.M. trademark.
Some fans worry Deng might have to perform using a different name to the one so familiar to them.
Zhang Dan, one of the founders of Hummingbird Music, explained that the main reason the record label had trademarked G.E.M.’s stage name was to prevent piracy. Her brand name now adorns a series of products that include jewellery, education, entertainment and advertising services.
Zhang says that his record label needs to consult a lawyer before deciding on a course of action. As for Deng, her spokesperson has simply said that a lawyer has been assigned to protect her rights.
Zhao Hu, a Beijing-based lawyer, said in an interview with China News that the trademark and the stage name are two different things: there can be a “Deng Ziqi” that serves as a trademark and an artist named “Deng Ziqi”. There is no conflict between the two and she can continue to perform under the name, was Zhao’s verdict.
“It depends on what she is trying to get back: her name or the trademark. If she only wants her name, that belongs to her because the public already associates her with the name and that falls within the rights to a personal name. However, if she wants to take back the trademark, she will need to show that there is no former agreement between her and the record label,” Zhao added.
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