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Q: using a title for a play that might seem to be in the public domain? ( Answered 5 out of 5 stars,   1 Comment )
Subject: using a title for a play that might seem to be in the public domain?
Category: Arts and Entertainment > Books and Literature
Asked by: finn4462-ga
List Price: $20.00
Posted: 08 Jan 2006 07:04 PST
Expires: 07 Feb 2006 07:04 PST
Question ID: 430706
I have written a play and am calling it "The Anatomy Lesson."  In
searching, I discovered Philip Roth and indeed some others have used
the same title for their previous works.

Does this mean that I can not use this title and they, therefore own it?

thanks Ivan
Subject: Re: using a title for a play that might seem to be in the public domain?
Answered By: siliconsamurai-ga on 08 Jan 2006 09:36 PST
Rated:5 out of 5 stars
Hi, thank you for bringing your question to Google Answers.

You can't "own" a name.

Although, as an author with five published books and two in the works,
I knew the answer to your question, having answered it many times at
lectures on freelance writing, it turned out to be surprisingly
difficult to find anything definitive on the Web.

?The Writer?s Legal Guide,? ISBN: 1581152302 (The Writer?s Guild) is
an important book which you should consider buying (about $20 for 352
pages) but just because you face a lot of legal questions, not because
of the name issue.

The answer to your question is that, yes, you can use the same exact
title as other authors and playwrights have use before, even if those
works are still under copyright protection. Of course the authors'
name is usually different but even if that weren't the case, the ISBN
classification number will be different.

The reason you can use the same title is quite simple and stated in
the FAQ, ?Copyright does not protect names, titles, slogans, or short

When you copyright a work you are protecting the contents, not the
title. Also, Web names, band names, and other names can?t be
copyrighted in the U.S.

It IS possible for some names to be trademarked.

The Trademark Electronic Search System is at:

?The Anatomy Lesson? is not in the database but even if it were that
wouldn?t necessarily mean you couldn?t use it in a book or play title.

For example, I presume the word ?Yahoo!? is trademarked, but there are
at least 200 books with Yahoo! in the title.

There is yet another reason why you can use the same title as another
book or play if it comes down to it, the fair use doctrine, but that
might not apply and, anyway, it won?t be necessary to go that way.

Now, I do want to mention that, although you CAN use the same title as
other playwrights, you may not want to.

There are several obvious reasons to choose a slightly different or
entirely different title and remember that the title of a play may
give little indication of what the play is about.

After all, "The Mousetrap" would probably have done just as well by another name.

>You may wish to avoid confusion with the other play.
>You may not wish to appear to be attempting to benefit from the association.
>You may not want the other playwrights to benefit from the
association when your play becomes a big hit on Broadway.

There are simply too many publications for it to even be possible to
avoid accidental duplication. The trick is to be concerned over what
appearance this duplication causes, positive or negative, if any.

For instance, although they sold well, I have never seriously
considered titling a book either ?The Communist Manifesto,? or ?The

I hope this puts your mind at ease and, although I encourage you to
try and find a different title, perhaps ?The Anatomy Class,? ?The
Anatomy Student,? etc.

After all the work you put into writing a play please take a bit of
time to rethink the title. However, if you feel this is the right
title, you are free to use it.

You have much bigger legal concerns than titling your work. You need
to worry about copyright, contracts, agency, publishers, etc. which is
where that legal guide I recommend will come in handy.

Google Search Terms:
The Anatomy Class
The Anatomy Lesson
Author?s Guild
Fair Use
"copyright book title"

Fair Use

I hope this answered your question which is rather common among
writing students, so don?t feel that you are the first to come up with
a great title only to discover that you weren?t the first to think it

Thank you again for turning to Google Answers and I look forward to
seeing your play headlining on Broadway in a few years Ivan.

Clarification of Answer by siliconsamurai-ga on 11 Jan 2006 02:56 PST
Glad to help. Thank you very much for the nice rating and especially the nice tip.

Good luck with your writing.
finn4462-ga rated this answer:5 out of 5 stars and gave an additional tip of: $10.00
Thanks so much for your answer. very helpful.

Ivan Schwartz

Subject: Re: using a title for a play that might seem to be in the public domain?
From: siliconsamurai-ga on 08 Jan 2006 09:39 PST
By the way, although it wasn?t in your question, it was in the title
so I thought I should point out that ?public domain? means that no one
has any special rights to something.

If something, such as a book or song, is in the public domain, then
either it isn't copyrighted at all or the final copyright period has
ended and you can do anything you like with it.

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