You’ve come up with the perfect title for your book. You want to make sure that no other writer can use this title for their work.
Or maybe you’ve come up with the perfect title for your book, but a Google search causes you to find out that it has already been used. Can you still use this title too?
Can you copyright a book title?
The answer is “usually no.” Book titles are generally not something that can be copyrighted.
Why Aren’t Book Titles Usually Copyrighted?
A copyright in the United States and most other countries will cover a work that is fixed within a tangible format. This means the work can be reproduced in some way for consumption – aka reading. You can copyright an entire book, but you generally aren’t allowed to copyright just the title to the book.
It’s the same reason why a song can’t be copyrighted, but the lyrics and melodies have ownership rights associated to them. It’s also why in the US, a movie isn’t allowed to be copyrighted, but you can’t just copy a movie line-for-line because the work has been published in a fixed way.
You may not have the ability to protect your title by a copyright, but you do have options available to you to protect the title of your work if you don’t want other authors using it without your permission.
Your Best Option Is to Trademark the Title of a Book
In the United States, the US Patent and Trademark Office allows for trademarks to be issued for words, phrases, designs, or symbols that identify the source of goods or services that are provided by one party. This allows for these items to be distinguished in an indisputable way from other items that may be similar.
When you look at a brand-name product today, for example, you’re likely looking at multiple trademarks. Take a can of Pepsi. Not only is the logo a trademark, but so is the name of the product. This stops people from being able to create their own cola, call it Pepsi, and attempt to sell it. The trademark requires those who wish to use trademarked phrases or images to seek out permission from the owner of the trademark before they can sell products or services.
If this permission is not granted, then sales are not allowed. If they do, after a cease and desist order is filed, those using the trademark without permission can be held civilly responsible for their actions.
Some authors, such as J.K. Rowling, have trademarked the titles of their books. The Harry Potter series is trademarked and protected.
What Is the Difference Between a Trademark and a Copyright?
Copyrights are automatically assumed and granted the instant a written work is put into a fixed format. If you publish a blog post, it’s covered because it can be reproduced. Trademarks have no such protection. They are not offered for free.
Under US law, trademarks aren’t even guaranteed. If your work is not considered to be indistinguishable from other works, then the US Patent and Trademark Office may not grant a trademark. This means you can apply for a trademark for your title, but there is no guarantee that it will be received.
This happens quite often when it comes to book titles. Because many titles tend to use generic terms, trademarks are not granted because the titles are so similar to other titles that are on the market today.
So why does J.K. Rowling get to have a trademark, but Average John Doe does not? The difference is in the character. If you read a book about Harry Potter and the character name is in the title, the average person would expect that Rowling would be involved in some way with that story. If the title of your book is A Changing Season and you’ve never written a book before, the title is generic enough that it is difficult to distinguish it from other books.
For Rowling, the book title is part of a brand. This helps it to become a trademark opportunity.
How Can I Improve My Chances of Receiving a Copyright?
If you want to trademark a book title, then your best option is to create your own brand identity. Create a website with this title. Write on a blog with the same title. Make it part of who you are online and offline.
When you do this, then you will be able to distinguish yourself from other writers. This will allow you to copyright your written work and then potentially trademark your title so you have the best possible protection.