Can You Copyright a Title?

Today’s publishing legal post looks at a question I hear a lot: “Can I copyright my title?” (Short answer: no.)

Copyright law doesn’t protect short phrases, slogans, names, or titles … even the unique or distinctive ones. Names, slogans and phrases are protected by trademark law – but titles don’t usually qualify for this protection (though series titles may).

Copyright law doesn’t protect titles because a title is too short to be considered a “work of authorship.” Works protected by copyright require a certain amount of original authorship, which generally means more than just a few words.

In some cases, titles may be protected under laws prohibiting fraud or unfair business practices. Authors can’t legally duplicate titles for fraudulent or deceptive purposes, or to deliberately cause consumer confusion. That said, an author cannot usually prevent other authors (or publishers) from giving a book a title identical to one the author has used.

The general rule is: you cannot copyright a title, but neither can you use one for fraudulent or deceptive purposes.

Have questions about this or other publishing-related legal issues? Feel free to ask in the comments or email me through the website, and your question may show up in a future post! (Without your name attached – I keep the questions confidential.)