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section heading icon     titles

This page looks at intellectual property aspects of book, film and other titles.

The nature of trade mark protection for business and other names is outlined here, with a more detailed profile elsewhere on this site.

A discussion of domain names is here, here and here.

subsection heading icon     book titles and names

The titles of books, articles, songs and films broadly are not protected by copyright. Corporate and other names are similarly not protected.

The rationale for non-protection is that a title is typically short and insufficiently unique; one dour US academic dismissed most book titles as "little more than short slogans, which may or may not have any relationship to the content of the work to which they are appended". Courts have been reluctant to grant copyright protection to titles is because that would inappropriately privilege one author over others and because non-copyright mechanisms are available to protect authors or investors. Copyrighting a name would similarly inhibit an individual from using his or her name.

The qualification - a discussion point for law undergrads - is that in principle some titles may be sufficiently long and distinctive as to gain protection. Suggested examples include Can Hieronymus Merkin Ever Forget Mercy Humppe and Find True Happiness? (1969), The Persecution and Assassination of Jean-Paul Marat as Performed by the Inmates of the Asylum at Charenton Under the Direction of the Marquis de Sade (1967). The principle has not been comprehensively tested

In practice a rights owner seeking protection in relation to a title would typically rely on trade mark (IP), personality rights or even passing off (consumer protection) law rather than copyright.

That means it is common to encounter works that bear the same title and in some cases cover the same subject. Examples include -

  • The Saucier's Apprentice by S. J. Perelman (1956), Raymond Sokolov (1976) and Bob Spitz (2007)
  • Gone by Lisa Gardner (2005) and Jonathan Kellerman (2006)
  • Leap of Faith by Danielle Steel (2001), Gordon Cooper (2002), Kimberly Bradley (2007), Norman Grubb (2005), Ellie Lofaro (2004) and Queen Noor of Jordan (2004)
  • The Final Judgement by Richard Patterson (1996), Daniel Easterman (1997)
  • The Last Battle by Cornelius Ryan (1966), CS Lewis (1956), Chris Bunch (2006), Ralph Wetterhahn (2002)
  • To Catch A Thief by David Dodge (1952), Robert Tilton (1984), Brittany Young (1986), Geraldine Kaye (1975), Diana Morgan (1986)
  • Heaven Can Wait by Harry Segal (1968), Leonore Fleischer (1978), Leonore Fleischer (1979), Charlie Jones (2003)
  • The Heart of Matter by Pierre Teilhard de Chardin, Graham Greene (1948), Beverly Falk (2000), Charles Halley (2006), Christina Becker (2004), Diana Burke (1980)
  • After The Funeral by Edwin Murphy (1998), Agatha Christie (1953).

Connoisseurs suggest that it's more fun (albeit harder work) to invent your own title, pointing to happenings such as the annual Diagram Prize, which has honoured "the world's oddest book title" since 1979, including McCutcheon's I Was Tortured by the Pygmy Love Queen, Ellenbogen's Oral Sadism and the Vegetarian Personality, Montague's The Stray Shopping Carts of Eastern North America: A Guide to Field Identification, Tjaden's Bombproof Your Horse, Califia's Lesbian Sadomasochism Safety Manual, Hill's People Who Don't Know They're Dead: How They Attach Themselves to Unsuspecting Bystanders and What to Do About It, MacKinnon's Are Women Human? And Other International Dialogues and Gordon's People Who Mattered in Southend and Beyond: From King Canute to Doctor Feelgood.


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version of December 2007
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