Thursday, March 14, 2013

Titles for Books and what I've learned

by Rita Hestand

Not everyone knows that titles are the one thing that cannot be coyrighted. I was researching this not long ago and decided to learn as much as I could about titles.

Song Titles, or any title for that matter can't be copyrighted, so it is legal to use the same title as someone else, as in a book or a song title.  When I began my series on the McKay's I became concerned about the legality of using a song title. I looked it up under copyrights and laws and it states that a song title cannot be copyrighted, however, it can have a trademark and that will prevent someone from using it.

Books are often times entitled the same, and I just found out by accident that I have a title that Tina Donahue had used long ago, Just One Kiss. Usually I google for a title to see if there is any chance of mix-up.  Actually there are many chances. There have been so many books published that almost every writer duplicates another writer's title if they write often enough, or long enough.  It is a good habit to get in to google a title you are playing with.  With my book, Just One Kiss, it all began when Lee kissed Hattie. Since she was a young black girl that dared him to, he obliged. That kiss started everything for them, and the memory of it brought them back together from a war. So the title fit so well I felt I had to use it. It was an interracial, historical western romance. While Tina's is also an historical romance, hers is set in Spain in the fifteen hundreds.

However, I have to tell you I have one book that I renamed and I so wanted to use but at the time a author had just released her book with the same title. My book, Wandering Heart I had so wanted and intended to name "Dream Lover", as the story revolved around her dream lover, who she couldn't put a face to, until the end.  But I backed off using the title as two new releases with the same name wasn't a good idea.  So I held a contest for the name of the book. That book became Wandering Heart.

I am still partial to Dream Lover but also found that there have been numerous authors using that same title. I had no idea that Tina had a book named Just One Kiss until I visited her site just a few days ago. There it was in front of me. Tina, it wasn't intentional I must tell you that. Bu I still think the title fits my book too. I'll have to buy your book and see why you named it, Just One Kiss.

The copyright laws are strange though. Although you can use a song title, you can't use lyrics from the song. But the law reads that groups of words can't be copyrighted, as in phrases, which makes it more complicated. Writing itself is groups of words.  So the next time you search for a title, googling is a good idea. Releasing a book at the same time with the same title is much too confusing and can cause problems. Reason being if their book is bad and yours is good, you could lose sales as someone might mention it and not the author.  If it is great, you are taking away from that writer for your own goals. I really think most writers do not intentionally copy someone's title for their own, but that we are all connected on the same wave length and so this happens from time to time. And although Tina is a fantastic writer (I've read some of her work) I wasn't aware of her book as it was print published . The book I wrote and the book Tina wrote are some years apart I believe. However, you might be surprised at how often this occurs in writing. My new series has song titles as book titles. I became a little concerned about the legality but when I checked it out, it still said that song titles were not copyrighted. When it is done for a specific purpose and has meaning, then the best thing to do is research this as far as you can go. 


Tina Donahue said...

I absolutely LOVE the cover for Wandering Heart, Rita. The title is beautiful too. :)

Redameter said...

Of all the titles submitted, Wandering Heart fit this book well, even though I was partial to Dream Lover. I realized that as authors, and as we have the same wave length sometimes, it is easy to pick the same titles for names. I probably will never have a book with Dream Lover as the title, but'
I was partial to it because of the song by Bobby Darin. Of whom I adore even though he is now gone.
But through the years I have come to like Wandering Heart as well.
Mary adair picked that title, so many thanks over the years to her!

Kathy Otten said...

I never have a title for my book until I have to send it somewhere. My working titles are always my heroe's name and I'm so used to it that even after my book's been published I mentally continue with my working title.

Gray Dixon said...

Hi Rita, well how interesting this topic has come up. I'm planning on blogging about my recent experience. What you say is true about copyrighting a title, HOWEVER, trademarking a series is possible and actually strongly encouraged. Twilight is trademarked to cover every single thing you can think of to bear that name, Laurell K. Hamilton's Anita Blake Series is trademarked. I'm sure quite a number of others are as well. Not me, but someone I know, is going through this. Wrote a series and the first titled book bore the series name. Seven books later and two years published, a film maker sent their lawyer dogs out with a DMCA stating a deliberate use of "their" trademarked name. However, no evidence through the US trademark site search found the title. However, they copyrighted the films which makes sense because it is a body of work that is covered. They claim they also have the right to use the name as a trademark, probably knowing you can't copyright a title. Through strong-arm tactics and threats of endless lawsuits, the publisher and author removed the books and are in the process of renaming because the expense is too great. As authors we have enough to deal with and now we run the risk of being sued because of a name. So my suggestion is if you plan on writing a series or even have a possibility of doing so, trademark the series name. The small expense ($325 plus an attorny fee) to file is cheaper than dealing with the litigious "big boys" out their who don't think twice about bullying the little guys like we authors. All we want to do is write not deal with this ridiculous mess.

jean hart stewart said...

Thanks so much for all the great information. I worry about doing the wrong thing, either legally or morally, but guess all writers do that.