Can I copyright a title?
The short answer: No.
The longer answer: Most titles are simply not long enough to meet the creativity requirement for a copyright. While it’s theoretically possible, a title long enough to be deemed sufficiently creative would probably be too long to easily fit in your marketing materials. And then there’s the problem of getting your audience to actually remember it…
However, you may be able to get trademark protection for your title. The U.S. Patent and Trademark Office won’t register the title to a single work, since one work is not a source identifier, but a series of works with a common thread in them could be registered. For example, J.D. Robb has a long-running murder mystery series where almost every book is titled “________ in Death.” Since she has a number of books with this format, she can register a trademark for “_______ in Death” with the U.S. Patent and Trademark Office.
Similarly, Suzanne Collins would not have been able to trademark “The Hunger Games” while it was the title of a single book, but adding “The Hunger Games Trilogy” to the cover of the sequels (not to mention making a movie with the same title and selling related merchandise) allows her to register “Hunger Games” as a trademark.
With trademark protection, you can prevent anyone else from selling a product with the same title as yours. You could also prevent someone from selling a product with a similar title – trademark infringement only requires that the two marks be similar enough to confuse or deceive buyers as to the source of the product.
As with all things in the intellectual property arena, this protection is a double-edged sword. You can trademark your series against others, but someone with a similar trademark could also pursue you for infringing on their mark. It’s always important to check and make sure your intended mark is not in use before putting it on the market. In the trademark world, the first person to use the mark almost always wins.
If you would like to learn more about trademarks, or need help making sure your mark isn’t already in use, you are welcome to email me at [email protected].