The Clash of Trademarks and Copyrights in Film and Literature Titles

The Clash of Trademarks and Copyrights in Film and Literature Titles

November 15, 2023 By Dinesh Parmar

“Naam me kya rakha hai'' or “What’s in a name? That which we call a rose by any other name would smell as sweet." While the celebrated English playwright and poet, William Shakespeare, asserted in "Romeo and Juliet" that names are inconsequential compared to the essence of a thing, applying this sentiment in contemporary times, particularly within the cutthroat entertainment industry, proves challenging. In today's landscape, the battle for titles is intense, compelling companies and artists to go to extraordinary lengths to ensure their titles stand out as unique and unforgettable, often resorting to the creation of more inventive and distinctive names. So, let’s see the importance of Trademarks and copyrights entertainment titles and how one can protect them and under what?

Title Wars: Importance of Title in Movies and Books

Whether it's a film or a book, naming stands out as a pivotal moment in the creator's journey. Titles act as the initial connection point between the audience and the content, making a well-crafted title a substantial factor in determining the success and influence of a work. Here are several reasons highlighting the importance of titles in the realms of movies and books.

  • Titles create the first impression. Although it is said to never judge a book by its cover, titles, be it of a book or movie is what the reader or viewer first interacts with and it creates expectations, generates interest, and makes one curious about the content.
  • A good title provides a hint about the genre, theme, emotions, or mood of the film/book.
  • A catchy and memorable title can contribute to word-of-mouth marketing and enhance the chances of being remembered.
  • A well-chosen title is a key element for branding and marketing. They are featured in trailers, posters, and promotional materials. A strong title can attract a larger audience.
  • The title often gives viewers/readers a sense of what the movie/book is about. It can create anticipation and help manage expectations.
  • Titles can be influenced by cultural trends, and they may evolve based on the historical and social context in which the film/book is launched.
  • Titles often need to be unique to avoid legal issues and to establish a clear identity for the work. The title may be trademarked to protect it from being used by others in a similar context.
  • Some titles are chosen for their artistic and aesthetic value. They may not explicitly reveal the content but contribute to the overall creative expression of the work.

In conclusion, titles are powerful tools in the world of storytelling. Far more than mere labels, they represent the initial link between the creator and the audience. A meticulously crafted title elevates the overall experience, imprinting a lasting impression and playing a pivotal role in the success of a movie or book.

Trademarks and Copyrights: Definitions and Differences

In India, both trademarks and copyrights are forms of intellectual property protection governed by specific laws.

1. Trademark law in India

  • Governed by the Trademarks Act, 1999.
  • Protects symbols, names, logos, and slogans that distinguish goods or services.
  • Registration with the Controller General of Patents, Designs, and Trademarks provides exclusive rights.
  • In the context of entertainment, movie titles can be trademarked to prevent confusion in the market

2. Copyright law in India

  • Governed by the Copyright Act, 1957.
  • Protects original literary, artistic, and musical works.
  • Copyright is automatically granted upon the creation of the work, but registration is advisable for legal advantages.
  • For authors and filmmakers, this encompasses protecting their work's narrative and creative elements, including titles.

For both, understanding the application process, duration of protection, and enforcement mechanisms is crucial. Consulting an IP law firm in India for specific advice is recommended.

Here are the key differences between trademarks and copyrights:

1. Nature of Protection

Trademark - Protects symbols, names, logos, and slogans used to identify goods or services.
Copyright - Protects original literary, artistic, and musical works.

2. Subject Matter

Trademark - Focuses on brand identifiers.
Copyright - Pertains to creative expressions.

3. Registration

Trademark - Requires registration with the relevant intellectual property office.
Copyright - Automatic upon the creation of the work, but registration is optional (recommended for legal advantages).

4. Duration of Protection

Trademark - Renewable indefinitely, as long as it is in use and renewed timely.
Copyright - Typically lasts for the life of the author plus 60 years.

5. Rights Granted

Trademark - Exclusive right to use the mark in connection with specified goods or services.
Copyright - Exclusive rights to reproduce, distribute, and display the work.

6. Enforcement

Trademark - Enforced through legal actions against unauthorized use.
Copyright - Infringement can be addressed through legal action, and registration provides additional legal benefits.

Understanding these distinctions is crucial for creators and businesses to effectively protect their intellectual property.

Trademarks and Copyrights in the Context of Titles

With the rise of franchises and cinematic universes, movie studios are increasingly trademarking titles to establish a unique brand identity. Unfortunately, it is leading to conflicts with authors who may have used a similar title for their books, sparking legal disputes over the right to use specific names in the public domain.

Authors on the other hand often rely on copyright to safeguard their literary works, but the scope of protection regarding titles is limited. While the narrative and characters are shielded, titles generally fall outside copyright's grasp, and such a lack of comprehensive protection results in authors seeing their book titles replicated in the film industry without legal recourse.

Finding the Common Ground

Books are often made into films and there arises the battle of titles. While some use the same title, some change it and there arises the battle of titles between the author and the filmmakers. To mitigate conflicts between trademarked movie titles and copyrighted book titles, collaborative efforts, and clear guidelines can be beneficial. Here's what can be done.

1. Early Collaboration -

Authors and filmmakers must collaborate early in the creative process. They must jointly discuss title choices to minimize conflicts and enhance synergy between the book and film.

2. Clearer Guidelines -

Industry guidelines for title usage to provide clarity must be established. It must outline criteria for distinctiveness and address potential overlaps in different mediums.

3. Trademark Searches -

Filmmakers must conduct thorough trademark searches before finalizing titles to identify potential clashes and allow for adjustments before release.

4. Mutual Agreement and Licensing -

Authors and filmmakers must enter into mutual agreements or licensing arrangements to formalize the use of titles across different mediums, fostering cooperation instead of legal disputes.

5. Public Domain Titles -

Public domain titles are not subject to trademark protection, authors and filmmakers must be made aware of this to reduce the likelihood of clashes.

6. Education and Awareness -

Increase awareness among creators about the legal aspects of title selection. Educational programs can help authors and filmmakers make informed decisions to prevent inadvertent conflicts.

By combining these strategies, the creative industries can foster collaboration, reduce conflicts, and create a more harmonious environment for authors and filmmakers. Additionally, legal professionals can play a role in guiding creators through these processes and ensuring compliance with intellectual property laws.

In Conclusion

Between trademark services and copyright services, it is better to opt for trademark registration rather than relying solely on copyright law because copyright protects the entire original work, including titles, while trademark registration specifically addresses the challenge of preventing other writers or filmmakers from using the same term. Choosing trademark registration becomes essential for both writers and filmmakers aiming to secure exclusive rights to the distinctive names associated with their creative works.

If you need further assistance regarding safeguarding your book or movie title, reach out to Parker and Parker Co. LLP, which is known to offer the best Intellectual Property Services In India through years of experience.

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