Thursday, June 25, 2009

Can a Chapter Heading Infringe a Book Title?

Dear Rich: I wrote a nonfiction book and it turns out that one of the chapters is the same title as a book on a similar subject. The person who wrote that book also has seminars and a DVD using the same title. I seem to remember that there's no copyright on titles -- but don't know how to make sure. Am I infringing? The short answer is 'No.' Copyright law definitely won't protect the book title. Trademark law (with rare exceptions) only protects book titles when used on a series of books. (The author could federally register the title for her seminars but she hasn't done so, yet.) Even if the author could prove she had trademark rights, she would have to show a likelihood that purchasers would be deceived, confused, or misled (yes, we know we could have said it with one word, but we're lawyers). Proving likelihood of confusion seems difficult since most consumers won't see your chapter heading until after they have purchased your book.  All that said, the author or publisher may still fire off a C&D letter should they learn of your chapter title (and may even dredge up claims of unfair competition). If you're concerned about getting hassled, the Dear Rich staff suggests that in the short term, avoid using the chapter heading in promotional materials for your book; and in the long term -- assuming you do a second printing of your book -- change the heading.