Thursday, October 23, 2014


We’re still with Brian Klems ….  Rita

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Can You Copyright a Title?
Q: I’ve been working on a book and the title is very important—I use it as the URL for my blog, for a weekly column I write, etc., and I want people to identify it with me. Can I copyright a title so others can’t use it? –Anonymous
A: Copyrights cover works fixed in a tangible format, but because titles are typically short, they don’t fall under copyright protection. So no, you can’t copyright a title to a book, song or movie. But you can trademark a title, which may give you the protection you seek.
The U.S. Patent and Trademark Office states that a trademark protects words, phrases, symbols or designs identifying the source of the goods or services of one party and distinguishing them from those of others. Brand names like Pepsi, Xerox and Band-Aid are all protected. So is the Nike “swoosh.” But more relevant to us, book titles such as The Da Vinci Code and Harry Potter and the Sorcerer’s Stone are trademarked.
Unlike copyright protection, which is granted the minute your work is written down, trademarks aren’t handed out so freely. In fact, if the U.S. Patent and Trademark Office doesn’t consider your title (or brand) a distinctive mark that is indisputably distinguishable from others, you will not be granted trademark protection. This is why you see so many books with the same—or very similar—titles. Many of the terms are considered too generic or arbitrary to warrant protection.
Trademarks are not only intended to protect the creator, but also the consumer. Trademarks keep others from confusing a well-known work on the bookstore shelves with others. For example, Harry Potter is such a popular, distinguishable character by J.K. Rowling that you’d expect any title with his name in it to be written by her (or, at least, a book approved by her). It’s not only her work, but it’s become her brand.
So if you use the title of your book as the title of your blog, column, etc., it could be considered your brand identifier. And if you find success, you could qualify for trademark protection.
Brian A. Klems is the online community editor of Writer’s Digest magazine

How Do You Regain Copyrights to Pieces You've Sold?
Q: About 20 years ago, I sold a short story to a magazine. One line in my contract stated the payment was for “full rights” and another said, “On acceptance of this payment, the author transfers the copyright interest to … .” Does this mean I can’t sell the story ever again, even as a reprint? What if the magazine is no longer published?—P.A.‑Humphrey
A: Selling full rights to your work is like selling your car—once the contract is signed, you have no rights to the piece and can’t sell it again. Works created 20 years ago are protected for the life of the author plus 70 years, so the new owner has that copyright protection.
According to our legal expert Amy Cook, even if a magazine is defunct, someone, somewhere, still owns the copyright to your piece. If you want to sell that article again, you’ll need to get the rights back.
“Even if the company went out of business, copyrights are assets that can be bought and sold; they don’t just disappear,” Cook says. “However, if you can find out who currently controls the copyright, that person may be perfectly willing to transfer the rights back to you.”
Cook also notes that there’s a little-known loophole in the Copyright Act that says authors may terminate their copyright grants after 35 years (though it doesn’t apply to works-for-hire or copyrights transferred in wills). But this loophole still requires you to contact the existing copyright holder and inform her that you’re exercising the clause. It’s important to put it in writing. And if you’re doing this, I suggest consulting a lawyer first.
Your other option is to change the story to make it a new work. There’s no real formula when it comes to creating a new piece out of old material. It’s important to know that you can use the same idea, but the work can’t be “substantially similar” to the original piece. How similar is “substantially similar”? That’s up to the judge—if it ever comes to that.
Brian A. Klems is the online community editor of Writer’s Digest magazine

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