Wednesday, July 25, 2007

Duplicate book, movie, television program names


Once again, in recent days various individuals have had questions about whether the same titles can be used in multiple books or multiple movies or television programs or series, websites (particularly domain names), or combinations thereof.

I am not an attorney; I am (for the purposes of these blogs) a researcher and writer. If the visitor has a specific question, it’s always safest to contact an intellectual property attorney in the same state (or country; overseas some rules can be different).

But, of course, I have watched this issue for years with respect to my own books and websites. I can share what the overwhelming majority of sources say.

Generally, the answer is yes. It is all right for more than one book to have the same title, or more than one movie, or a book and movie with different subject matter. Titles cannot be copyrighted. (Here is the Copyright Office link). A title of a series of books (like “… for Dummies”) that is marketed as a brand can be trademarked, so someone else who tries to release a book or movie with the same name may run into trouble.

It is common for movies to have different titles in different countries, and sometimes translations from one language to another are not “literal.” It is also common for unrelated movies to have the same name. Just browse through imdb. A good recent example is “Sunshine.” When movies are presented in a series with sequels (like “Harry Potter” or “Die Hard”) the series title is probably viewed as a brand, inasmuch as most large movie studios regard these series as cash cows and are sensitive to the possibility that the public interest in the film as a brand would be diluted. With a television series, it is not as clear, but probably in many cases a television series itself (“Smallville”) is like a brand. However, a work (from a different source) with the same name that had existed before the series came into being should be all right.

(Note: Sec. 2, (1) reads "...who, at any time after the owner's mark has become famous, commences use of the mark or trade name in commerce that is likely to cause blurring by dilution by tarnishment..." See the posting from June 7 for the link to the text.)

Lawyers have been concerned that the “likelihood” of dilution (and the ambiguities in some of the terminology of the new law) could be an excuse for large companies to go after small fry, but not when the smaller works were in circulation first.

Here is a USPTO trademark office link: (look at 4c.) Here is another typical link on using trademarked names as book titles.

1 comment:

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