I am in the process of writing a book and I want to use a title that I know has been used before, so I started checking to see if I could use that title. I found out that the short answer to this question about copyrighting a book title is, "Generally, No." You cannot copyright a book title. The U. S. Copyright Office does not typically allow someone to copyright a book title because titles are not considered intellectual property, but are only "short slogans," which are not eligible to be copyrighted. The Copyright Office doesn't want titles to be restricted to one book; there may be other works in which the title may be equally usable and appropriate.
For example, McGraw Hill published a book titled PT 109: John Kennedy in World War II, and they attempted to bar Random House from publishing a book titled John F Kennedy & PT 109. The Court found that the words "PT 109" and "John Kennedy" were descriptive or generic terms and therefore not able to be copyrighted.
You Can Trademark a Title
Even if you can't copyright a book title, you can register the title as a trademark. For example, "Chicken Soup for the Soul" is a registered trademark, as is the "Dummies" series of books. In another example, Fox News trademarked the term "Fair and Balanced" in 1998, but they can't stop someone from using that term in a book title, as Al Franken did in his book: Lies and the Lying Liars Who Tell Them: A Fair and Balanced Look at the Right.
Search for Trademark or Copyright
If you want to see if a title has been trademarked, you can use TESS, the online search at the U.S. Patent and Trademark Office. Then you can start the trademark process. Yes, you can do it yourself, but it's better to have an intellectual property attorney help you. I've done it both ways and found that an attorney who is familiar with trademarks can considerably improve your chances of getting the trademark through the process more quickly and easily.
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