Friday, January 25, 2013

Can I Write a Song Called American Graffiti

Dear Rich: If I choose to compose a song with the title "American Graffiti", and include the phrase "American Graffiti" several times in the lyrics, is this considered a derivative work for which permission would need to be granted from the copyright owner? The song would not be about the movie - it's just a cool phrase. I read your article on copyright for short phrases but am still not sure. You should be fine with a song titled (and including the phrase), "American Graffiti." The two-word combo is not protected under copyright law and (based on this case and others) it's unlikely that Universal, the owner of rights would proceed with trademark claims against a songwriter. (Currently Universal holds only one trademark registration for American Graffiti -- Reg. No. 2336375 -- for die cast miniature vehicles.) Also (and we're not sure if this qualifies as an FYI or a BTW), but according to the Harry Fox song database, there already is a composition entitled American Graffiti by Scott Wiseman. Many songs (for example this and this) can have the same titles ... so that should not be an issue.

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