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Films With The Same Title


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#1 Richard Boddington

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Posted 23 January 2007 - 06:22 PM

Hi,

Has any one ever seen, or have, any legal info on films that share the exact same title?

This seems to be more common than I thought when using IMDB, and three films of the same title come up and they are not remakes of the original.

For instance there have been two movies called "Crash." Different directors and scripts.

If there is no legal way to block some one from using a movie title then why has there not been another "Star Wars."

I'm looking for some actual hard data on this and not just an "opinion" or "I heard a guy say...."

I need to know because the new feature I'm prepping uses a title a similar to an existing movie, but not exactly the same. I figure if "exactly the same" is permitted then a slight mis-match should be ok??

R,
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#2 Dominic Case

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Posted 23 January 2007 - 07:10 PM

If there is no legal way to block some one from using a movie title then why has there not been another "Star Wars."

I guess that anyone doing so would need to prove that they weren't using the title to cash in on the value of the name. And Mr Lucas would have deep pockets from which to pay his lawyers, so why bother.

I also guess that you could register your film title as a trade mark if you chose (and if it was registerable: you can't "own" common phrases.) If you did that, then it's unlikely that other films could get away with the same title.

In most cases, a second film with the same title turns out to be totally unrelated to the first (unless it's a remake, so there's no real problem.
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#3 Jim Keller

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Posted 23 January 2007 - 08:07 PM

Has any one ever seen, or have, any legal info on films that share the exact same title?


I actually did a fair amount of research on this issue a few years back. I can only speak to U.S. law, but the upshot is this:

There is nothing copyrightable about a title. In the eyes of U.S. copyright law, titles may be used and re-used an infinite number of times.

However, there may be a trademark issue.

The first person to use a product name in the consumer marketplace can assert trademark rights over that name. George Lucas took the time and money to register "Star Wars" as a trademark, effectively banning anyone else from releasing a product (including a movie) using the same name. He was able to do so because he was the first to release a product called "Star Wars" and/or he was the only person with a product by that name in the consumer marketplace.

The litmus test for trademark violations is what is known as "marketplace confusion." Specifically what that means is this: would a typical consumer mistake your product for the one they intended to buy. For example, Honda Computers won the right to continue to use its name, because the courts believed no one who is looking for a car is going to buy a computer by accident. So you can, for example, make a movie called "Adobe" despite the fact that it's a trademark, because no one is going to go see your movie while intending to buy software. However, if you make a movie called "Star Wars," you have created marketplace confusion, because people might mistake your movie for the Lucas one. The gray area is if you make a movie that would appear to be a cross-over of another product (such as making a movie called "The Green Lantern," which reasonable viewers might assume is related to the comic books), so it's wise to avoid doing so unless you're prepared for the fight.

In the "Monopoly" case, the U.S. Supreme Court held that owning a trademark does not prevent others from using the word or words in your product name in other products. The specifics of that holding allowed another game manufacturing company to continue to produce a game called "Anti-monopoly" in which players pretend to be trust-busting crusaders. So, while you can't sell a movie called "Star Wars," it would be perfectly legal to sell one called "The War for the Stars" (with the caveat that Lucas could still file a suit claiming marketplace confusion, which you would probably win, but which could cost you time and money anyway).

It's important to note that trademark claims can be made (though they're much harder to prove) even if the name has not been registered. So you will probably want to avoid calling your movie "Lawrence of Arabia" even though the trademark has not been officially filed. However, with common words or phrases, such as "Crash" or "Virus" or "Two for the Road," you're probably fine.

You're also fine if the product is not currently available in any form in the consumer marketplace (in which case it is considered an abandoned trademark, though, again, be prepared for a fight if the trademark is still owned by someone litigious).

So, to sum this up in plain English, if the title has been used before, you're probably fine unless the movie is very famous.
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#4 Richard Boddington

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Posted 23 January 2007 - 08:42 PM

Thank-you for taking the time to write that Jim, much appreciated.

Keeping with the Star Wars theme, Lucas lost his battle with the US gov't to stop them from using Star Wars as the name for missle defence.

I guess the judge figured movies and missle defence where not related enough to cause brand confusion.

My case may be a bit tougher to define, the name of the movie is similar to an existing title minus one letter at the start of a word. My movie is a horror film, so is the existing similar title.

R,
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#5 Jim Keller

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Posted 24 January 2007 - 04:14 PM

My case may be a bit tougher to define, the name of the movie is similar to an existing title minus one letter at the start of a word. My movie is a horror film, so is the existing similar title.


If the title isn't exactly the same, you should be fine.

However, make sure your key art in no way resembles they artwork for the older film, because similar design might be used as a basis for a marketplace confusion claim.

(The exception to that being if you're making a satire of the original film, which falls under what's known as "fair use." If this is the case, though, consult a lawyer because court holdings have been very inconsistent as to what is and is not fair use.)
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#6 Brad Grimmett

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Posted 24 January 2007 - 08:35 PM

It wouldn't hurt to give the WGA a call (and/or the Library of Congress) and ask them about this. Also, you may want to get in touch with whoever owns the rights to the other movie with the similar name and ask them about it. Maybe just ask there permission as a courtesy, which may save you a hassle later.
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#7 Matt Pacini

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Posted 25 January 2007 - 03:32 PM

Why in the world would you INTENTIONALLY want your title to sound like that of another movie?

"Imitation is the sincerest form of flattery" ... to the ORIGINATOR, not the copyer!
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#8 Jim Keller

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Posted 25 January 2007 - 03:37 PM

It wouldn't hurt to give the WGA a call (and/or the Library of Congress) and ask them about this. Also, you may want to get in touch with whoever owns the rights to the other movie with the similar name and ask them about it. Maybe just ask there permission as a courtesy, which may save you a hassle later.


Calling the WGA is a good idea, but I'd advise against opening the door with the copyright owner of the other movie. That then gives them cause to claim that your movie is, in fact, based on theirs. (Yes, the logic of "They contacted us so this must be a derivative property" holds up in court.)

Though a polite and informed producer will appreciate the courtesy, how many polite and informed producers do you know? You're far more likely to get a "cease and desist" letter and/or an invoice for rights than you are to get a polite "thank you for letting us know."
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#9 Richard Boddington

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Posted 25 January 2007 - 03:55 PM

Why in the world would you INTENTIONALLY want your title to sound like that of another movie?

"Imitation is the sincerest form of flattery" ... to the ORIGINATOR, not the copyer!


I thought up my title before I knew about the other one :blink:

Besides I don't care about "art", I care about, "commercial viability." Why did Paul Haggis call "Crash", "Crash?" There must have been a hundred other titles he could have used.

And yes I agree with you Jim, I'd rather use the old Russian proverb, "better to beg forgiveness than to ask permission." This is certainly the hallmark of shooting stock footage. "Oh I can't put my camera here, gee I didn't know what." Too bad sucker...I already got the shot and was just leaving :)

R,
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#10 Brad Grimmett

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Posted 26 January 2007 - 12:06 PM

And yes I agree with you Jim, I'd rather use the old Russian proverb, "better to beg forgiveness than to ask permission." This is certainly the hallmark of shooting stock footage. "Oh I can't put my camera here, gee I didn't know what." Too bad sucker...I already got the shot and was just leaving :)

R,

While I think for stock footage that's probably a good idea, I don't really agree when you're talking about a feature. This kind of thing could potentially cost you a lot of money down the road (unlike the stock footage example) and therefore should be carefully considered before mistakes are made.
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#11 Jim Keller

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Posted 26 January 2007 - 01:41 PM

While I think for stock footage that's probably a good idea, I don't really agree when you're talking about a feature. This kind of thing could potentially cost you a lot of money down the road (unlike the stock footage example) and therefore should be carefully considered before mistakes are made.


If you are going to open a dialogue with the copyright owner of the other film, you should under no circumstances do it yourself. Spend the money to have a lawyer who specializes in entertainment law do so on your behalf.
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#12 Matthew Buick

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Posted 26 January 2007 - 05:13 PM

I need to know because the new feature I'm prepping uses a title a similar to an existing movie, but not exactly the same. I figure if "exactly the same" is permitted then a slight mis-match should be ok??


Oh god, another one!?!?

How many, Boddington? HOW MANY?????
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#13 Richard Boddington

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Posted 26 January 2007 - 05:39 PM

Oh god, another one!?!?

How many, Boddington? HOW MANY?????


Ten(10) is my goal.

R,
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#14 A. Whitehouse

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Posted 26 January 2007 - 06:58 PM

Ten(10) is my goal.

R,


Maybe its a little off topic but there are an incredible number of films with similar plots titled "toy soldiers". They dont all seem to be on IMDB but it used to be a running joke with my friends. Always a military school undersiege...
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#15 Matthew Buick

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Posted 26 January 2007 - 07:29 PM

Ten(10) is my goal.


*SCREAMS LIKE EIGHT YEAR OLD GIRL ON NITROUS OXIDE AND FAINTS*


FAN: Boy, that Matthew Buick, he went out in style...
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#16 Patrick Cooper

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Posted 27 January 2007 - 11:47 PM

Incidentally, there are two films that share the title 'Fair Game.' The better known film features supermodel Cindy Crawford on the run from some association that seems to be intent on blowing up her character. The lesser known film is an Australian movie and features a woman in the outback who is taunted and abused by three young males.
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#17 David Mullen ASC

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Posted 28 January 2007 - 12:38 AM

There are many titles on my resume that are the same as other movies: Night Caller, Jackpot, Shadowboxer, When Do We Eat?, Foreign Affair, Solstice, etc. It happens all the time.

I suppose one danger of a horror film sharing the same title as the other one is if the other earlier one really sucked, because then people might think any overheard negative comments were about your movie -- "Oh, I heard that (Title) was a piece of s---... don't watch it." Don't expect to see another comedy titled "Ishtar" for some time...
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