If I have been working on a book for several years that has a similar name to an already published (yet very small) book, would I be crossing the line?

Additionally, if I filed to copyright to own the name and they don’t have it, would that protect me. Or would it be void because they published their book first, despite having never registered their name as a copyright?

Asked on March 25, 2015 under Business Law, South Carolina

Answers:

SJZ, Member, New York Bar / FreeAdvice Contributing Attorney

Answered 5 years ago | Contributor

Copy comes into existence with creation, so even if the other author or publisher never filed for copyright, they do own it. (Registering a copyright makes the protections stronger and increases what you can get if there is a violation, but it is not necessary to have copyright.) Only *original* things can be copyrighted. You can't copyright a single word, by the way, unless it's a wholly made up one; and you can't copyright a phrase used by others previously--all of which means that it is very difficult to actually copyright a book name.

There are alot of books and movies using the same title. This does not pose a problem, except if the name is something unique and made up. To pick just one example: there's a very good monster/horror novel called Dead Sea by Tim Curran. And there's another good monster/horror novel called Dead Sea by by Briane Keene. Same genre, same target audience, came out within two years of each other, and no problem, because the phrase "Dead Sea" can't be copyrighted--there's, among other things, an actual sea call "Dead Sea." Or there are many, many books, plays, movies and TV shows all called "Phantom" or "Phantoms" without any conflict, because that's a single word title.

On the other hand, there can be only one movie called "Jumanji," because that's a made, wholly original, copyrightable tite. There are also unique phrases as titles, if they are not ones that otherwise exist or have been used, but which have been made up only for the title. So as long as the title you propose isn't a unique one that somehow, you and the other author both came to against all odds, you could use it. But if it is that unique, then if someone else already came to it, you have to come up with another one.


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