You Can't Copyright A Title, UnlessComplications Ensue
Complications Ensue:
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Wednesday, October 30, 2013

Q. I wrote a script called "LIVING NIGHTMARES" several years ago and had it registered with the WGAw. Found out recently that AMC ripped the title for one of there own films. Called the Writer's Guild to see what they could do and was told that it's perfectly legal for companies to rip the title of your work. Talk about some B.S.
Yep. Titles get recycled all the time. Especially titles like yours, which are based on extremely common phrases. "Living Nightmare" gets 714,000 Google Hits. (I assume that your LIVING NIGHTMARE was not a remake of the 1977 critical hit NAZI LOVE CAMP 27, which was also released as LIVING NIGHTMARE.) So if you can't protect the title to a produced movie, you definitely can't protect the title to an unproduced script.

My question is how Disney prevents people from releasing their own movies called SNOW WHITE AND THE SEVEN DWARFS. I think that might have something to do with trademarks, or possibly just having a massive legal department. (UPDATE: See RJ Reimer's excellent explanation in the comments for how studios regulate the re-use of titles. Thank you, RJ!)

But there have been other SNOW WHITE movies. You can make one, too.

By the way, registering a script with the WGA gives it no legal protection whatsoever; it just provides evidence should there be a lawsuit. If you want legal protection, register your script with the Library of Congress, on any day the government is not shut down. 


Exact titles are protected by an "insiders agreement" between the major /minor studios. That's why the recent "The Butler" move couldn't be release with that name; there was a 1920s or 30s movie of the same name and the studio for that film protested. (Methinks something more personal was going on behind the scenes...) They CAN reuse a title, but there has to be agreement (which is usually given) between the prior maker and the current one. It isn't a legal protection of title, except by contractual agreement. So a major studio will NOT make a film titles "Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs" (because of their inter-studio contract, which includes Disney), but YOU can make one and title it thus (assuming you aren't a major studio...). Of course, once you advertise it, Disney can chase you down for "trademark dilution" i.e., you are ruining the public's perception of their trademarked title. But they can't stop you from making and titling your film the same thing.

By Blogger rjreimer, at 7:27 AM  

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