How Can I Own a Title?Complications Ensue
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Thursday, April 23, 2009

I just read an article regarding the Stan Winston directed 'Pumpkinhead' where the producer states that he 'owned the title Pumpkinhead.'

Is it possible to own a film title?

ie, I have a cool title - how can I own it?
You can't copyright a word, and I'm pretty sure "pumpkinhead" was in the dictionary before the movie. Moreover, there are any number of movies with the same title, especially if it's a common word or phrase. I have a credit on a picture called WARRIORS, which is not the famous one.

The producer may have registered the title with the MPAA. I'm not actually sure what this does, but I imagine there are some restrictions on putting out similarly-titled movies at the same time; of course all the MPAA can really do is withhold their rating.

The producer may also have trademarked the title, at least as it applies to horror movies about big rangy ugly monsters. I'm not sure how much protection that gives; I think it just entitles you to threaten a lawsuit, not necessarily win one. But who wants to buy a lawsuit?

I don't think you can practically "own" a film title without producing a movie. Otherwise people would just get our their BREWER'S DICTIONARY OF PHRASE AND FABLE and squat on movie titles the way they squat on Internet domains.

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Try putting the two words `star wars' on anything and selling it. I'm pretty sure you can trademark a title of a movie and have it applied to anything. I also think you don't have to have a movie made to trademark a title. If there are conflicts, you can't trademark it, though, so you can't squat on a trademark like you can domain names. My mother-in-law used to be a trademark researcher, and it's not a simple process.

By Blogger Tim W., at 2:45 AM  

Titles are specifically excluded from trademark laws, for exactly the squatting reasons: branding and licensing toys is trademark, but the film title itself isn't. But you would be taken to court if you were playing on the confusion, piggybacking on somebody else's tm... you could make a film called star wars about two divas pulling each other's hair out. But you'd have to use a different font!

By Blogger mark m., at 5:26 PM  

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