Tuesday, April 23, 2013

Can you use a title that has been used before? Would you want to?

I am not actually looking to use a title that has been used before, but what if I did?  What if I thought that a title already given to a story was also perfect for my work? Or perhaps someone used a title and somehow I fail to discover this coincidence?

Although I am not an intellectual property lawyer (I focus on the much more exciting area of tax law....) I do know the answer to this one.

Like ideas, names, and slogans, titles are not protected by U.S. copyright laws - which is why you may find that certain books share the same title.

Copyright protection,is generally available only if a work possesses “a significant amount of original expression.”  While “a significant amount of original expression” has not been specifically defined for this purpose, courts have found that expressions as short as book titles lack the required amount of original expression and cannot receive copyright protection.

However, while copyright laws will not protect a title, trademark laws may. 

The U.S. Patent and Trademark Office has declared that a trademark protects words, phrases, symbols or designs that identify the source of the service or good offered by one party - in effect allowing a word or phrase that is a recognizable "brand" (think Twilight) to receive trademark protection.

Thus, while you are not going to be able to title your next vampire teen series "Twilight" (why you would want to is another matter), calling it "One More Bite" is not going to violate any laws (but would make an awfully boring and predictable title).

Any titles that are taken that you would have loved to use? 


  1. I don't have anything specific like that, but I do know of a woman who wanted to call her book "Shades of Grey" but, you know, can't now, for obvious reasons.

  2. When I wrote my first zombie book I titled it the same as a movie. Not intentionally. Try as I might, I just couldn't come up with another title so I let it stand.

  3. Parodies certainly do well with reusing titles! Although I never enjoy them much....

    Does reusing titles of my own unpublished novels count? :)

  4. I haven't had this happen with a book title, but I had a hard time deciding on a name for my blog because every time I came up with an idea and googled it, I found it was already used.

  5. Titles are tough. I've seen several books titled the same or very similar though, and it seems to work. I love it when an original title comes to mind, like finding gold!